Now that it has been a few days since the World Series, the Atlanta Braves are in off-season mode. Alex Anthopoulos has already made some moves in the re-signing of key bullpen pieces.
There is no question that the Atlanta Braves offense was historic last season, but the one position that was the weakest was left field. In Terms of fWAR, Atlanta ranked nineteenth in MLB for the position of LF. To be fair, that was an improvement from twenty-ninth in 2022, but nineteenth shows room for improvement.
Eddie Rosario was the primary left fielder for the Braves in 2023 and he has a $9MM club option that has yet to be exercised. The deadline for this is five days after the World Series. This will be an interesting scenario because this price tag is manageable to keep Rosario around, even with his approximately league average bat (wRC+ of 100).
The Braves have a few different scenarios that they could take. They could opt to keep Rosario and continue to utilize him as they did this past season, they could let him go, or they could opt to keep him and find a platoon partner.
In the later two scenarios, this would require the Braves to have another left fielder. They no longer have Kevin Pillar under contract.
One option that could make sense is to add Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Because of the language in his contract, he is not eligible for a qualifying offer. Due to this, he is officially a free agent. To be fair, with the QO being set at $20.325MM this season, Gurriel was a fringe candidate anyway.
Gurriel Jr. is not the type of free agent that gets fans hyped up like a Cody Bellinger type, but he could be an above average player, that is affordable. Should the Braves decide to add him while keeping Rosario, this could be a fun platoon. Rosario generally hits righties above average. Outside of 2022 when he had eye issues, he has had a wRC+ of over league average against righties every year since 2017.
On the flip side, Gurriel hits lefties fairly well. Although he is not elite by any means, for his career he has been above average against lefties.
The issue with this is that it is not like Gurriel struggles against righties. Since 2019, his wRC+ has ranged from 100 to 120 in non-shortened seasons against righties. This being said, it would be an expensive platoon of Rosario and Gurriel, which would most likely just be for 2024 while Rosario is still on the team with the idea that Gurriel continues as the every day starter post 2024 if he is still under contract.
Of course, the Braves could just let Eddie go and go with Gurriel as the everyday starter. With that being said, let’s take a deep dive into his peripherals and why he may be a good option for the Braves if the money lines up.
He fits what the Braves seem to like. A player with a high hard-hit percentage. His hard-hit percentage was in the top 23.0 percent of MLB at 46.0 percent of the time. Although he did not walk much with walk rate being bottom 13.0 percent of MLB (5.6 percent rate), he also does not strikeout much. His 17.4 strikeout rate ranked him in the best 21.0 percent of MLB. His 18.7 swing and miss rate was also excellent, being in the best 16.0 percent of MLB.
His wxOBA and barell percentage were right at league average, and his xBA (top 36.0 percent) and xSLG (top 37.0 percent) were just above league average.
These peripherals do not scream that is someone that should be a top priority, but they are solid and by looking at his XSTATS vs his actual on field numbers there are not red flags when it comes to him being lucky. His wOBA was .337 vs his xwOBA being .331. His actual slugging percentage was .455, when his xSLG was .450. His BABIP was also right around league average at .294 and was below his career average of .316.
What makes Gurriel intriguing outside of his bat is that he was easily the best defensive LFer in MLB. As we know, LF typically host the worst defenders. According to Statcast, his range was in the top 25.0 percent of players in MLB, and this includes all positions.
If we look at Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), which is position specific, Gurriel was worth fourteen runs better than the average LFer.
If we look at overall defensive rating (Def) by Fangraphs, Gurriel led all LFers with 5.4. The second closest was Steven Kwan with 3.4, and Kwan had 574.0 more innings in the field. It is honestly shocking that the Diamondbacks opted to have Gurriel play DH in fifty games (which is most likely why he was not a gold glove finalist).
Gurriel is not young anymore. He will be thirty-one at the end of next season, and historically defense declines faster than offense, and the metrics can be finicky based on where balls are hit to you, but adding Gurriel’s defensive floor would be a huge boon for Atlanta.
In terms of Fangraph’s overall defensive rating, as a team the Braves were right in the middle of the pack being ranked fifteenth. They were fifth in left field, but left field defense was down across the league.
Gurriel by himself had a Def of 5.4. Including all left fielders for the Braves, they had -2.3 as a unit and still ranked fifth.
Ultimately it will come down to contract demands of the player, as well as where other funds are being spent for the Braves when it comes to who will be added. The offense was the least of their worries, so odds are LF will not be a priority. That being said, if the money lines up right, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. does make a lot of sense.