Just 70 games into his MLB career, there are plenty of firsts to come for Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
He knocked one off the list on Saturday, absolutely crushing his first career grand slam off Gregory Soto. Of his nine home runs, seven of them have been to centre field, a strong indicator of his plus power — as if that’s needed after the Home Run Derby.
Outside of the huge game-winning shot, it was a relatively quiet week, although not necessarily in a bad way. Guerrero Jr. kept the strikeouts down, peppered in a couple of singes and took a few walks. When the week was over, he hadn’t put together an extraordinary stretch, but it looked like he was on track.
Considering the probably-silly concerns about the Derby messing with his swing, it was a positive sign for the Blue Jays.
Here’s how Vladdy fared last week:
The line: 6-for-23 with 1 home run, 3 walks and 2 strikeouts
Best at-bat: Strikeout vs. Buck Farmer seventh inning on Saturday
Clearly the result wasn’t ideal and there’s a grand slam to choose from, so I can see this as a tough sell for “best at-bat.” That said, this was a heck of a trip to the plate for Vladdy.
Three pitches in he was down 1-2, and yet Guerrero Jr. hung in for 10 more, fouling off tough offering after tough offering from Farmer. He took three strikes in this at-bat and one of them was certainly a ball (#2 in the picture above) and the other two (#3 and #13) were 50-50 pitches.
Of the seven pitches Vladdy fouled off at least five were in the “too close to take” category. It was impressive despite the final call rendering it unproductive.
Worst at-bat: Strikeout vs. Chris Sale second inning on Thursday
Nothing about this at-bat was a problem until the end. Sale painted the corners masterfully to get ahead, but the pitch he got Vladdy out was totally uncompetitive.
Even so, the rookie went around just a little bit too much.
Guerrero Jr. knew his mistake immediately and wandered back to the dugout despondent.
These are the type of at-bats that can happen to virtually anyone, and Sale is a bit of a mitigating factor, but that swing is about as bad as it gets. In an overall sense, Vladdy’s plate discipline has been a bit disappointing and this is a perfect example.
Guerrero Jr. hasn’t hacked like his dad, but he hasn’t been able to replicate his form from the minor leagues. The good news is that his K/BB ratio is still pretty damn good, and plate discipline is a skill that tends to improve significantly with age.
How he was pitched:
As Guerrero Jr. acclimatizes to the majors it seemed logical to assume pitchers might throw him fewer and fewer fastballs. That hasn’t happened for a couple of reasons.
The first is that he hasn’t proven to be a consistent enough power threat for opposing pitchers to deviate from what they do well. Until he produces more consistently, he’s not going to be a guy who forces opponents out of their comfort zone.
The second factor is that pitchers are discovering that Vladdy mashes balls in the lower half of the zone, but hasn’t done as much with pitches at the top. That’s led to him getting attacked with more high fastballs.
Pitchers with good four-seamers are going to live high with Guerrero Jr. until he shows them they can’t.
Defence and base running:
The story doesn’t seem to change much with Vladdy’s defence week-to-week. It’s clear that despite his rocket arm, he’s a below-average fielder who makes an ugly mistake approximately weekly.
This week that error came on Saturday when he miffed a ball off the bat of Jordy Mercer, then made little effort to track it down when a play theoretically could have been possible. It would have been a low percentage play, but Guerrero Jr. gives up on this awfully quickly:
The previous day Vladdy made a play that was as impressive as that previous play was unimpressive, robbing John Hicks of a base or two.
When Guerrero Jr. makes plays like that it’s possible to squint and imagine he isn’t destined for first base. Realistically, they are few and far between. Vladdy grades out as a negative defender no matter which way you slice it and those grades are justified.
On the bases, the wait for the first steal continues while BsR has Guerrero Jr. as 15th-worst among the 1228 position players who’ve appeared in the majors this season. That’s approximately Jose Abreu territory, but much of his negative rating stems from the fact he’s grounding into double plays at an unsustainably high rate.
When he stops doing that, his base running numbers will be more subpar than dreadful.
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