Blue Jays: Ranking Vladimir Guerrero Jr. among AL third basemen in 2019

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 01: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws to first base to force Jose Altuve #27 the Houston Astros out in the third inning during a MLB game at Rogers Centre on September 01, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 01: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws to first base to force Jose Altuve #27 the Houston Astros out in the third inning during a MLB game at Rogers Centre on September 01, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s rookie season has been a success, for the most part, especially since the All-Star break. How does he stack up against the rest of the third basemen in the American League?

Last week I wrote about Vladimir Guerrero Jr‘s 2019 season and compared it to what Josh Donaldson has done for the Atlanta Braves this year. While some folks thought I was setting up unfair expectations for the rookie with the way Donaldson has bounced back this season, I actually wanted to highlight just how well Vlad Jr has done overall, especially since the All-Star break.

While he’s not quite living up to the standards of someone like Donaldson (and that’s okay as a 20-year-old rookie), I was curious how Guerrero Jr’s season compares to the rest of the third basemen in the American League.

The truth is, there are a lot of really good third basemen in the American League these days. Alex Bregman has split time between third and shortstop, but he’s had an MVP calibre season. Rafael Devers has become a superstar, and Matt Chapman is having another impressive campaign.

In fact, in terms of fWAR leaders (bWAR in brackets), Guerrero Jr. ranks in the bottom half, even if there is some debate about how many of these guys you would classify as third basemen.

Alex Bregman: 6.2 fWAR (6.4 bWAR)
Rafael Devers: 5.4- (4.8)
Matt Chapman: 5.3 (6.1)
DJ LeMahieu: 4.8 (5.3)
Yoan Moncada: 3.9 (2.8)
Yuli Gurriel: 3.3 (3.4)
Hunter Dozier: 3.1 (2.2)
Gio Urshela: 2.9 (3.4)
Jose Ramirez: 2.9 (3.0)
David Fletcher: 2.7 (3.2)
Kyle Seager: 2.7 (2.3)
Tommy La Stella: 2.2 (1.6)
Miguel Sano: 2.0 (2.3)

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.: 0.9 (2.1)

When you see the sheer number of names above Guerrero in terms of fWAR value, there’s a temptation to look at his rookie season as a disappointment. There’s a lot to unpack in these numbers though, especially when you look at Vlad Jr’s performance in particular.

First of all, the 20-year-old has been a different hitter since the All-Star break. He slashed .249/.328/.413 with eight home runs, 13 doubles, and 25 RBI in 225 at-bats. Since putting the league on notice with his home run derby performance, Vlad has slashed .325/.391/.535 with seven home runs, 10 doubles, and 34 RBI in 157 at-bats. That type of production would jump him up this list in a big way, and I expect we’ll leapfrog several names as early as 2020.

The second, and bigger part of the equation has been his defence. Before we even look at those numbers, let’s keep in mind that we knew this was going to happen when he was promoted to the big leagues, or at least we should have expected it. His bat matured at a legendary rate, and his glove wasn’t developed to the same degree. I also feel that he’s improved as the season has gone on, and things will look better next season. All that said, let’s have a look at how Guerrero compares to some of these guys when using Fangraphs “Off” and “Def” ratings.

Vlad Jr:  4.6 Off, -10.2 Def
Sano: 11.4, -3.5
Ramirez: 6.6, 4.8
Seager: 10.0, 5.7
Fletcher: -1.6, 10.5
Urshela: 18, -2.4
Dozier: 17, -2.0
Moncada: 19.7, 5.3
Chapman: 21.4, 13.7
Devers: 31.1, 3.5
Bregman: 41.9, 1.9

That tells a different story to me, at least when I put my rose-coloured glasses on. Guerrero’s offensive ratings would be much higher if we were looking at just the second half, and I believe he’ll be closer to that hitter next season than the one that we saw in the first half. He might not hit .325, but I don’t think we’ll see him hitting below .250 again.

As for his defence, it has improved as I mentioned before, and I think it’ll continue to move in a more serviceable direction. If he can get it in, say a Gio Urshela territory at -2.4, that’s a huge difference and one that will impact his overall value in terms of WAR.

Of course, I’ve centred this whole discussion around one statistic, and it’s not a perfect representation of value. For example, Bo Bichette has already been worth 1.5 fAR despite playing just 31 games, and Cavan Biggio at 1.0, both besting Guerrero’s numbers. I do prefer it to a lot of stats though, mostly because it encompasses several parts of the game and is a greater representation of value.

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And while those numbers don’t paint the greatest picture for Guerrero against his fellow American League third baseman, I’d be willing to bet good money that these leaderboards will look a lot different a year from now. He’s quickly becoming one of the better hitters in the American League already, and with a steadily improving glove, the numbers don’t tell the entire story.

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