Gurriel Jr. named Blue Jays player of the year, most improved player

Toronto Blue Jays' Lourdes Gurriel Jr. reacts as he crosses home plate after his solo home run off Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Brendan McKay during the fourth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

TORONTO – Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s breakout 2019 season earned him both Blue Jays player of the year and most improved player honours in annual club award voting by the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Although he played in only 84 games, the 25-year-old led the team in batting average (.277), slugging percentage (.541) and OPS (.869) among players with more than 250 plate appearances, while his 20 home runs were fifth. As calculated by Fangraphs, his 1.8 WAR ranked fifth on the club.

Closer Ken Giles earned pitcher of the year honours, two electric months were enough for Bo Bichette to be selected as rookie of the year while veteran Justin Smoak won the John Cerutti award, given to someone associated with the day-to-day workings of Blue Jays baseball who displays goodwill, co-operation and character, as exemplified by the late left-hander.

The selections of Gurriel and Bichette despite their relatively small sample sizes demonstrates the type of roster upheaval and inconsistency of performance the Blue Jays experienced this past season.

Outfielder Randal Grichuk was the only Blue Jays player to appear in excess of 125 games, while rookie right-hander Trent Thornton was the only pitcher to finish the season with the team to break 100 innings, finishing with a team-best 154.1.

Marcus Stroman (124.2) and Aaron Sanchez (112.2), both dealt ahead of the trade deadline, were the only other Blue Jays pitchers to surpass the century mark.

Giles was 23-of-24 in save opportunities while posting a 1.87 ERA and 1.000 WHIP with 83 strikeouts in 53 innings.

Bichette batted .311/.358/.571 with 11 homers and 18 doubles in 46 games while providing stellar defence at shortstop.

Smoak batted .208/.342/.406 in 500 plate appearances over 121 games, grinding through leg issues that hampered his performance while serving as a model of professionalism for a young clubhouse.

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