This post started with a question: Is Lourdes Gurriel the best Blue Jays left fielder since Reed Johnson and Shannon Stewart?
The Toronto Blue Jays are currently seeing a much different version of Lourdes Gurriel than the one that started the 2019 season. Since being recalled from Buffalo on May 24, he’s been on fire. He hit .393 in the last 7 games in May and .337 in June. To start July, he’s at .364. Of his 50 hits in 37 games, 11 have been home runs. It is like the move to left field was just what the doctor ordered. If you look at his defensive numbers (311 innings in LF), he’s not made a single error and has collected 6 assists, including this one:
Sure, you could call that a “Fenway Park Special”, but it’s plays like that that make you think he’s found his home in left field. His catch against the Red Sox last night was even more impressive.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) July 5, 2019
The question I has was how he compares to some of the better left fielders the Blue Jays have had. Obviously, this is the point where we should acknowledge that Gurriel has been playing left field for 36 games and the players you’re about to reminisce on played much more. But, it’s just a fun exercise, so go with it.
If you look back at left fielders, you’d probably come to Michael Saunders, who had about the worst second half of a season anyone can have in 2016 when he was an All Star. You might even think of Kevin Pillar, who started in left, where he made the home run robbing catch that put him on the map. There have been others like Eric Thames, Ezequiel Carrera and Derek Bell. There have also been playoff push guys like Rickey Henderson and Ben Revere. However, for this exercise, we’re going to focus on a few of the more memorable ones.
Frank Catalanotto played left field for Toronto from 2003 to 2006. He was always a good on base player who hit for average, but not much power. The most home runs he hit for Toronto was 13 in 2003. He also hit 6 triples that year. Currently, Gurriel’s OBP is at .363, which would be just shy of Cat’s ’05 and ’06 marks of .367 and .376. But, it’s pretty close. And, Gurriel has already beat 13 home runs this season. Defensively, Cat had 10 assists in 2006, which Gurriel very well could beat. As of right now, the current left fielder has 0 DRS and a UZR/150 of -1.9. Cat’s 2006 numbers were -1 and 16.3 respectively. In 2005, his DRS was 2 and his UZR/150 was 3.2.
Melky Cabrera played for Toronto from 2012-2014. He was a good hitter with occasional pop. He collected 35 doubles and 16 homers in 2014. He slashed .301/.351/.458. That year, he picked up 13 assists in over 1100 innings. His defense might not be as bad as you remember…once he had the tumor removed from his back. 2014 saw a DRS of -3 and a UZR/150 of 1.6. Gurriel’s 13 doubles and 15 homers look fairly good against Cabrera’s full season of playing the position. Defensively, you have to think that Gurriel’s infield experience and athleticism would produce better numbers over a longer stretch.
Reed Johnson is among the more fondly remembered players in Blue Jays history. He didn’t win a championship, but he won the hearts of fans with hard work and grit – the high socks helped definitely helped. He played from 2003 to 2006. Sharing left field duties with the Cat, Johnson put up his best offensive season in 2006 where he slashed .319/.390/.479. Consider Gurriel’s current line: .311/.363/.639 and you get a rather interesting comparison. Johnson got on base more, but Gurriel is hitting for more power. In Johnson’s 2006 campaign, he hit 34 doubles and 12 dingers. There’s an outside chance that Gurriel could catch him in doubles. Defensively, Johnson never had a season with more than 7 assists. However, the following stats separate him from Gurriel: from 2003 through 2006, we was worth 2, 8, 12, 15 DRS and 11.3, 30.9, 20.4, and 36.9 UZR/150. Those numbers are by far the gold standard among this group and present a challenge for Gurriel.
Shannon Stewart played left field from 1995- 2003 and then again in 2008. By the time he received everyday playing time, he was a .300 hitter whose OBP was right around the same as Gurriel’s, give or take a few points. In 2000, Stewart hit 21 homers, but was more around the 10-12 mark during his time in Toronto. He had 2 seasons with more than 40 doubles and hovered around 30 as a Blue Jay. His SLG mark only topped .500 once. On the other side of the ball, Stewart’s best season was in 2008 when he put up 3 DRS and a UZR/150 of 14.3 in 310 innings. In more regular playing time, he yo-yo’d between slightly positive and negative values in each metric. Based purely on the numbers (small sample size aside), Gurriel might be a slightly better left fielder. Of course, time will tell on that front.
Lourdes Gurriel has been a bit of a revelation in left field this year. He’s done a lot to convince the team that they’ve found a solution to a position that ran the Teoscar Hernandez Experience out there. In his short time manning the position, Gurriel has put himself in some pretty nice left field company. None of this is to say that he is the best ever, but it is a fun little look at what could be if he stays in the position over the remainder of his 4.5 more seasons. He’ll be a Blue Jay for a long time, which is really the highlight of this post.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.