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We continue to look at the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays by looking at one of the Blue Jays’ most critical young players: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
We’ve been hearing so much hype around Vladdy that it’s hard to forget that he’s still just 21 years old and has put up numbers that exceeded league averages in his two MLB seasons so far. But that still doesn’t ease our disappointment over his inability to live up to that hype on the field. It also doesn’t help that there has been a cohort of young stars who have outperformed him on the field.
Signed for a record $3.9 million out of the Dominican Republic on July 2 2015, Vladdy Jr. was living up to the hype of his Hall of Fame dad when it came to his hitting prowess and minor league production. Vladdy filled up the scoresheet in 2016 in Bluefield as a 17 year old, hitting .271/.359/.449 with 12 doubles, three triples and eight home runs, showing tremendous power and plate discipline (walking 33 times with just 35 strikeouts).
As an 18 year old, he combined to hit .323/.425/.485 with 28 doubles, two triples and 13 home runs in A-ball, playing for both Lansing and Dunedin and in 2018, combined between Double-A and Triple-A (with a smidge of rehab time in the GCL and Dunedin), playing 95 games and hitting an insane .381/.437/.636 with 29 doubles, a triple and 20 home runs, walking 37 times and striking out 38. Our large vicarious child was blossoming before our eyes.
Guerrero started 2019 in Buffalo with lots of controversy about his service time clock entering spring training. An oblique injury kept him out of games and he started in Buffalo to get up to speed. There he hit .367/.441/.700 in just nine games before he was promoted to Toronto where he spent the rest of his season.
A funny thing happened in Toronto and in the 123 games he played. He was … good. Not great. And pretty bad as a major league third baseman. Vladdy hit .272/.339/.433 with the Blue Jays, hitting 26 doubles, two triples and 15 home runs. That was good for a .772 OPS while his strikeout rate rocketed to 17.7% (the highest it had ever been in the minors was 13.4%) while his walk rate stayed respectable at 8.9% but pitchers weren’t pitching around him anymore. He had a wRC+ of 105 (5% above league average run creation) and, according to Fangraphs, was worth just 0.4 WAR, hammered by a -10.6 defensive rating.
Vladdy played in 13 games in spring training before COVID-19 shut everything down, hitting .290/.353/.581 with three home runs, giving us all hope that we’d see the “real” Vladdy when the season started. But a funny thing happened. Vlad put on a lot of weight over the layoff and came back looking sluggish and was moved to first base.
When play started, Vlad started slowly, hitting .172/.200/.276 in seven July games. He would have a great August, hitting .289/.373/.515 with eight doubles a triple and four home runs, taking 12 walks with 15 strikeouts but would taper back off to “slightly above average” numbers in September/October, hitting .262/.320/.463 with seven walks and 16 strikeouts, hitting five doubles, a triple and four home runs.
In the playoffs, Guerrero was 1/7 with four strikeouts and no walk against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Fangraphs put Guerrero’s value at 0.3 WAR (the same as Baseball Reference) in just 60 games and had his wRC+ at 115, putting his offensive production at 15% above league average. So we are seeing some improvements.
The batted ball details are still promising for Guerrero. He finished in the 93rd percentile in exit velocity (92.5 mph) and the 93rd percentile in hard-hit ball percentage (50.8%). On the down side was his launch angle at 4.6 degrees, which was even lower than his 2019 launch angle of 6.7 degrees, which, in itself, was already worrying low. Basically, Guerrero is hitting the ball really hard, but into the ground, where he can’t do nearly as much damage.
We also need to see how his current commitment to losing weight and keeping it off holds up throughout (mostly) full season in 2021. Can he get his launch angle up high enough to become one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball (with his ability to hit the ball as hard as the best players)? Can he lose enough weight to help him improve in the field? All of these questions will remain to be answered in 2021.
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