Tuesday, March 06, 2007

It's Been Awhile

I haven't posted here at Gourriel Watch for some time. This is due to a combination of factors including the birth of my son on New Years Day, the frequent inaccessibility of the Cuban Federation website, and a lot of other side projects in the works. The main reason I have been unable to update Gourriel Watch has been the perpetually down server for game logs and statistics from Cuba. I rely heavily on that information to provide updates, and only supplement that data with the anecdotal material translated from Spanish. I have found an alternate source of information. This source is not nearly as detailed as the official league site, but it will have to do.

At this point in the 46th National Series, we find Yulieski Gourriel's Sancti Spiritus team atop the Group B standings at 43-29, a mere game and a half up on Industriales. The Gallos have the third best record in the sport as of March 6th, but Gourriel is not having the dominant season in 2007 that he produced just last year. With only 18 games remaining in the 46th, Gourriel has produced the following numbers:

52 runs
97 hits
24 2B
0 3B
8 HR
36 RBI
39 BB
19 K

These numbers are not bad, but when we look at them next to last season's production, it's hard to imagine that they come from the same player. Last year's key numbers:

The main point of concern has to be the drop from a .676 slugging, which came from 11 triples and 27 home runs to no triples and only 8 home runs. I don't know how to account for the drop in production, but perhaps there is an injury that I need to look for in the chronicles of the season. Maybe a shoulder? Whatever the case may be, the Gallos are on top of the Group and the real measure of this Series will be how Gourriel performs in the playoffs. I'll do my best to keep an eye on things via my new source, and continue to pray that the FBCA site will come back on-line again. Adios for now.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It Begins

The World Baseball Classic turned us all on to a number of new faces on the international scene. One such player is 22-year-old Yulieski Gourriel, infielder for the Cuban National Team and the Sancti Spiritus club of the Cuban professional league.

The WBC interrupted an intense 45th National Season in Cuba, and gave us a brief glimpse at the many Major League caliber talents hidden in obscurity behind Castro's communist curtain. The league is hardly a secret and the history of the island's organized baseball clubs is long and storied. Current action can be followed with minimal effort on the internet, but some Spanish language proficiency is required. Living in Japan, my Spanish is a bit rusty, but the league gives me the opportunity to stay fresh and take steps to keep my intermediate level knowledge of the language.

My eyes are on young Gourriel to see how far his talent will take him. Somehow, I believe it will be impossible for him to play in the Major Leagues, as he will be guarded as a national treasure. Some notable players have defected successfully, but the prospect of a stud like Gourriel leaving Cuba is almost nil. Yulieski and the people around him laughed off reports over the summer that the young man had defected to play for the Yankees. We need to understand the notion that many of the Cuban stars don't care about playing in the majors. The pride that exists in being a pro in Cuba is immense, and the life players lead is generally well above the status of everyday citizens. A legend is a legend after all, regardless of the paycheck.

One of the key factors in Gourriel's attachment to Cuba is his family. Both his brothers are players, and his father Lourdes is a certified hero on his own. As a first baseman for the national team, the senior Gourriel had a number of huge moments on the international stage. In 1988 his hitting contributed to a World Cup victory over the United States. He taught his sons everything he knew about playing "beisbol" and each has blossomed into a fine player. Lourdes Gourriel now coaches his sons for the Sancti Spiritus club. Yulieski, the middle son, has surpassed the expectations of everyone, and is drawing comparisons to a young Alex Rodriguez in some scouting circles.

The young slugger has become a fixture on the Cuban national team, helping to win the gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games and the 2005 Baseball World Cup. Cuba finished second in the aforementioned World Baseball Classic, in part because Daisuke Matsuzaka owned the otherwise dynamite Gourriel. In the Sydney Olympic Games, Gourriel managed to put up a nice line at the age of 20. He hit 3rd in the powerful Cuban order and went .343/.395/.371 with 8 runs and 4 RBI over 9 games. The highlights included a 2 for 4 against Daisuke Matsuzaka and a 4 for 9 in the medal round. The power was absent from his game during the Olympic tournament as he only produced one extra base hit, but that would change a year later in Holland at the Baseball World Cup.

The national team celebrated gold in the 2005 cup, and Gourriel had a breakout performance. The power outage of the year before was soon forgotten as he hit .319/.385/.894 for a wicked 1.279 OPS over 11 games. In 47 at bats, Gourriel had 8 home runs and 19 RBI, with 12 runs scored. The World Baseball Classic, as I mentioned at the top, was a celebrated introduction to the fans in the United States. Yulieski didn’t disappoint on the big stage as he helped Cuba reach the championship game with a line of .273/.342/.515 with 2 homers and 6 RBI to go with 8 runs scored over 8 games. Certainly, the people of Cuba were hoping for a stronger showing, but at 22 years old I think the world was impressed at what they saw. The people of Sancti Spiritus were certainly thrilled at the outcome of their professional circuit, which resumed after the WBC.

The 45th National Series concluded with the MVP awarded to Gourriel. The young man led his Sancti Spiritus Gallos to the Group B title, winning the final 29 of 31 games, including 25 consecutive victories. Gourriel homered in 5 of the last 6 games, including the last 4 in a row. His 57 extra base hits broke the single season record by a wide margin, and he became the first player in Cuban history to go 20/20. Did I mention that he's only 22 years old?

Gourriel appeared on the leaderboard of virtually every important offensive statistic, and is notable for the following statistical accomplishments this season:

Runs - 1st (89)
Triples - 1st (11)
Home Runs - 1st (27)
RBIs - 1st (92)
Total Bases - 1st (236)
Stolen Bases - 2nd (21)
Slugging % - 3rd (.676)

Remember, the Cuban season is only 90 games long, so we need to look at his numbers as they are and pro-rated to a 162 game season to put them into proper perspective. Click below to view his 90 game stats:

One further note on the numbers you see above. Gourriel added a .484 OBP to his .676 slugging, for an OPS of 1.160. That is virtually the identical figure that Babe Ruth put up for his career, and matches the single season numbers for Ted Williams in 1946, and Todd Helton in 2000. Let's look at the pro-rated 162 game stats(click below):

Setting a 160 run, 166 RBI pace is insane. Put that together with 20 triples and 49 home runs, and you have something resembling Lou Gehrig's 1931 season. 38 stolen bases on top of all that is unheard of. To put it in perspective, Gourriel would account for 446 total bases, good for 4th place on the all-time single season list behind Ruth (1921), Hornsby (1922), and Gehrig (1927). It's best if we just leave it at that. At 22 years old, Yulieski Gourriel set the equivalent of a Joe Dimaggio, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig mark in the Cuban ranks.

The 46th National Series started some weeks ago. Gourriel’s Gallos are looking to avenge their playoff loss this season and finally push their way to a title. He is off to a slow start after about 18 games and is only hitting .285 with 2 home runs in 71 at bats. He will pick things up going forward, so there’s not much to worry about. His talent will win out, and in the meantime his teammates have kept the Gallos in a tie for 1st place with La Habana and the red hot Juan Carlos Linares. I will follow this exciting young man’s career for as long as I can.

I also plan to dedicate time at Gourriel Watch to other Cuban players, so check back often for more. Viva beisbol!!!!!