The first 10 games of Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s career haven’t gone according to plan, but the advanced data shows he hasn’t been as bad as his .162 average.
Many Blue Jays fans hoped that the arrival of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to the big leagues would be the spark the team needed to make the 2019 season a relevant one. While the team did have a short surge after he was promoted, they’ve quickly sunk into a tough stretch, losing eight of their last ten.
Unfortunately for Charlie Montoyo, the entire offence has been pretty dead, especially in their recent series against the Twins when they were outscored 26-1 in three games at home at the Rogers Centre. Some of these players we expect to go through hot and cold streaks, but for some reason Vladimir Jr’s arrival felt like it would be different, even if he’s a 20 year old rookie.
With all due respect to the Blue Jay hitters of the past, we’re not really used to having someone who has the potential to be the best in the game.
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Sure, Josh Donaldson won an AL MVP and Jose Bautista lead the league in home runs for two straight years, but Vlad Jr. has the potential talent to transcend those accomplishments. That’s why his tough start, even in a small sample size of 10 games, has been both puzzling and disappointing even for a young man barely out of his teens.
If you take a look at the advanced data on Guerrero Jr., the good news is that it paints a picture of someone who is much better than the results. There are at least three different areas that stand out to me, and make me feel a little better about what we’ve witnessed from the young phenom in his first 37 at-bats.
First of all, I’ll reiterate that all of these numbers are over a very small sample size, and a few solid games at the plate could change everything in a real hurry. That said, here’s what we’re looking at today, and some of it isn’t as bad as it would seem.
Despite the fact that he has yet to have a “barrelled ball” according to baseballsavant.mlb.com, Guerrero is still averaging an exit velocity of 89.0 miles per hour, while the MLB average is 87.4. It’s just incrementally better than the average but it’s a good sign that he’s hitting the ball that hard even when he’s not making the best contact. His hard hit percentage is also at 38.5%, while the MLB average is 34.2%.
His eye hasn’t been bad
Guerrero Jr. has struck out more than I think most of us expected, but he’s been seeing an unusually low number of good pitches to hit. He’s been shown a fair bit of respect by American League pitchers even in his first taste of the big leagues, as they’ve stayed away from the centre of the plate. Still, Guerrero has a walk percentage of 9.8%, which is better than the MLB average of 8.3%. Again, a small difference, but a good sign when he has yet to hit his stride.
It’s interesting to look at his Statcast data and see what kind of pitches he’s been seeing, and what he’s done with them so far. He’s had just 61% of pitches for fastballs, as he’s frequently fell behind in the count, which has allowed his opposition to mix in a lot of off-speed stuff. The data shows that he’s seen just 4.5% of pitches as “Meatballs”, while the average hitter gets 7.3%.
Batted ball profile
One of the most encouraging signs I’ve seen from Vlad Jr. so far is his willingness to spread the ball around the field, even as he’s struggled. He’s pulled the ball in 30.8% of his balls put in play, hit them “straight” in 46.2%, and went to the opposite field in 23.1% of those contacts. This tells us that the young hitter has been willing to work with what the pitchers have given him, but unfortunately it hasn’t been a whole heck of a lot so far.
It’s not great to see his groundball percentage at 73.2%, or that he’s “topping” pitches at the same rate as opposed to being “under” them on just 7.7%. That said, it is nice to see that Guerrero isn’t chasing the home run to impress his new big league fans, and is showing a more disciplined approach at the plate, even if the results aren’t there yet.
As I’ve already said, it’s entirely possible that the top prospect in baseball could go on a tear over the next week and make this whole thing a moot subject, and that wouldn’t surprise me a bit. It’s been tough to watch him struggle, but the more I’ve watched him and the more I look at the data, it’s just a matter of time before he starts hitting. He’s too talented not to.