BRANDON GUSTAFSON

One World Series outfielder could help Mariners solve some key issues

Oct 26, 2023, 1:52 PM

Seattle Mariners free agency Lourdes Gurriel Jr....

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. of the Diamondbacks celebrates a stolen base on Oct. 19, 2023. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

There’s plenty of Seattle Mariners intrigue with this year’s World Series. The American League champion Texas Rangers are in the M’s division, while the Arizona Diamondbacks have former Mariners closer Paul Sewald as well as outfielder Corbin Carroll, a Seattle native.

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For Mariners fans watching the World Series closely, there’s another Arizona outfielder you should keep an eye on that’s not Carroll.

That would be Lourdes Gurriel Jr., the Diamondbacks’ left fielder who was an All-Star for the first time this year and hit two home runs in Arizona’s NLCS win over Philadelphia.

Why watch him closely? For starters, he’s a pending free agent. More specifically, Gurriel does many things well that the Mariners as a team did poorly this past season.

Gurriel, who just turned 30 on Oct. 10, posted a slash line of .261/.309/.463 (.772 OPS) during the 2023 season, hitting 24 home runs and driving in 82 runs.

The run production? Very good.

The slash? While it doesn’t exactly jump off the table in part because of the on-base percentage, Gurriel had an .810 OPS in the first half, anchored by a ridiculous 1.130 OPS in May, compared to a .726 OPS in the second half.

While that may seem like Gurriel finished slowly, that actually isn’t the case.

Gurriel had a very rough July, OPSing just .480. But he had OPS marks of .846 and .826 in August and September, respectively. Gurriel also owns a career .791 OPS and .279/.324/.466 slash line.

Solid numbers, for sure, but what exactly makes him a potential Mariners fit?

Perhaps most important is that Gurriel is one of the best hitters in baseball when it comes to putting the ball in play.

As has been well documented, the Mariners had a severe strikeout problem in 2023, ranking second in baseball in K’s at the plate. They were also first in strikeouts with runners on base and in scoring position.

Gurriel, who struck out just 103 times in 2023, was in the 84th percentile in whiff rate at 18.7% and 79th percentile in strikeout rate at 17.4%, per Statcast.

For context, the average MLB whiff rate was 25.7%, while the Mariners’ was 28.4%. The average MLB strikeout rate was roughly 22.1% this season and Seattle’s was 25.9%.

Gurriel doesn’t walk much, as evidenced by his .309 on-base percentage in 2023 and career .324 mark. He walked just 33 times in 2023. But he makes contact – a lot of it. And much of that contact is hard.

Gurriel’s career hard-hit rate is 45.4%. It was 46% this past season, which would have been third on the Mariners among qualified hitters behind just Julio Rodríguez and Teoscar Hernández. The MLB average was 39.4% in 2023.

Another issue the Mariners had that coincides with their bloated strikeout numbers: struggling against secondary pitches.

The Mariners were in the bottom 12 in fastballs and sinkers faced in large part because of those struggles. The team faced the most splitters, seventh-most sliders, 10th-most curveballs and 11th-most changeups, per Fangraphs.

Enter Gurriel, who more than held his own against secondary pitches this season.

Gurriel hit .308 with .516 SLG against offspeed pitches (predominantly changeups and splitters) in 2023. He hit just .213 against breaking balls this year, but posted a very good .470 slugging percentage.

Against sliders, Gurriel hit .237 and slugged .505 with a run value of 6, which was 40th best among MLB hitters this year. He also had very respectable whiff rate of 26.4% against sliders.

When it comes to the curveball, Gurriel also had a run value of 6 against the pitch, good for 19th best in MLB. He hit .256 with a .513 slugging percentage with a 28% whiff rate.

On other breaking balls he saw at least 100 times, Gurriel did hit just .103 against 107 sweepers (30 plate appearances) and .179 against 154 cutters (39 plate appearances).

Gurriel also hit .305 with a .488 slugging percentage against changeups with a 4 run value, 52nd in MLB. He saw just 27 splitters, but hit .429 with a 1.00 SLG off the pitch in seven plate appearances.

Against four-seam fastballs, Gurriel didn’t have much slug (.403 SLG), but hit .273 and whiffed just 13.7% of the time.

He hit .311 with a .495 SLG against sinkers with a miniscule 9.3% whiff rate.

Defensively, Gurriel was one of the top defenders in left field this season despite not being named a Gold Glove finalist.

He finished second in MLB in defensive runs saved at the position, per Fangraphs, and was first in the National League in that mark. He also finished above average in outs above average while ranking in the 89th percentile in arm value and 77th in arm strength, per Statcast.

The Mariners need to do a better job of putting the ball in play in 2023. Gurriel is hardly the “sexy” name fans will be clamoring for, but he would be a very solid addition for the club, filling a need in the lineup as well as in the corner outfield, which must be addressed with Hernández a pending free agent and Jarred Kelenic and Dominic Canzone the top in-house options for left and right field as we sit here today.

Should Gurriel be the lone notable acquisition the Mariners make? No, of course not.

Should he be the biggest name brought in? No to that, too.

But if the Mariners want to lengthen the lineup, make more contact, cut down strikeouts, produce more runs with runners on base and not kill rallies, Gurriel would be a very good start and welcome addition to the lineup while adding a very, very good defender in left field.

Pending free agents are free to sign with new teams five days after the conclusion of the World Series, of which Gurriel has a chance to be a key part of.

Hear the ESPN Radio broadcast of every game of the 2023 World Series live on Seattle Sports 710 AM or the Seattle Sports app.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• Seattle Mariners Offseason: Key dates for the rest of 2023
• Mariners Notebook: Sewald addresses trade, echoes Cal’s comments
• Salk: Why best thing for Mariners is to trade for Juan Soto
• Mariners winners, losers from Bump & Stacy’s 2nd annual Bumpies
• Morosi: How Seattle Mariners must address bullpen, lineup this offseason

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