Watching Vladimir Guerrero Jr.‘s major league debut last night, I was struck watching some of what he did. Could his natural talent for putting the barrel of the bat on the ball and the patience he has at the plate rub off on his teammates?
In his four times at bat, Vladdy went the other way three times. The hardest hit ball of the night, with an exit velocity of 106.8 mph. He also hit a ball to the left field wall, his weakest-hit ball of the night (89.6 mph exit velo) and hit a fly ball to the warning track in left centre (EV of 99.8 mph). Finally, in the ninth inning, he reached out and flicked a double down the line to the right field corner (with an exit velo of 96.1 mph).
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. didn’t strike out once in his major league debut. He has also has a nifty 11.02% strikeout rate in his 1261 minor league plate appearances.
The 2019 Blue Jays have 254 strikeouts in 949 plate appearances, ranking them 14th in the American League (out of 15 teams) and a 26.77% strikeout rate. If we exclude yesterday’s debut of Vlad, the Jays had played 25 games and struck out 248 times, giving them almost 10 strikeouts per game (9.92 K/G). Yesterday, the Blue Jays struck out just six times.
Could there be a Vlad Effect that will help the Blue Jays strike out less than they have previously? Will Vlad’s example of cutting down his swing to put the ball in play rub off on the rest of the Blue Jays?
Another aspect of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s game is his ability to hit the ball the other way. The 2019 Blue Jays have pulled the ball 42.4% of the time, gone to centre field 32.3% of the time and hit the other way 25.3%. (Note: I couldn’t figure out how to get the batted ball stats on Fangraphs for every day but yesterday, so that includes yesterday’s game.)
I’ve already covered how Vlad went the opposite way 75% of the time in his major league debut but did you notice that in the ninth inning, no one pulled the ball? Teoscar Hernandez went the other way on a hard-hit ball for an out, and Teoscar has hit the other way only 21.3% of the time. Additionally, Brandon Drury‘s home run was hit the other way too. Granted, Yusmeiro Petit threw only four pitches that were not on the outside corner or further away. And arguably, of the pitches that were hit, the best to hit of any of them was the pitch that Billy McKinney bunted.
But looking at batted ball data from yesterday’s game, only Billy McKinney, Justin Smoak and Rowdy Tellez pulled more than half of the balls they put in play. For a team with a 25.3% rate of going the other way, the Jays went the other way 32.1% on Friday. Coincidence?
Of course, all of these statistical anomalies could be due to the small sample size of one game and the fact that Yusmeiro Petit was living on (and off) the outside corner. But there is a chance that the Blue Jays could see a bump in their ability to put the ball in play and to use the whole field when they do.
Hopefully more of the Blue Jays will be like Vladdy as the season progresses.
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