Blue Jays: How much do you mess with a player’s swing?

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 4: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays in action during a game against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on August 4, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 4: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays in action during a game against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on August 4, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

While it’s understandable that the Blue Jays would like to see Vladimir Guerrero Jr. lift the ball a little more, how much should they mess with his swing?

It’s been a frustrating first 13 games for the Blue Jays so far this year, mostly because they could and even should have a much better record than 5-8. When you look at the performance of other teams that are struggling right now, it makes the opportunity that much more frustrating.

As usual, when things aren’t going terribly well then we as fans start to look around for scapegoats. Charlie Montoyo has understandably faced his fair share of criticism over the first few weeks of this season, as there have been several questionable decisions made with bullpen management, and even the batting lineup. However, he’s not alone, and even though he’s hit .333/.417/.524 over his last six games, fans are concerned about the performance they’ve seen from Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

The slugging first baseman started off pretty cold to begin the shortened 2020 campaign, going just 5-29 (.172) over the first seven games in July, but his batting average wasn’t necessarily what drew the concern. First, Vlad Jr. was missing a lot of hittable pitches over the plate, and generally looking a little lost over the first few games. Secondly though, the same “launch angle” discussions have already begun, as he’s struggled to get much lift on the ball so far.

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Which leads me to the big question for today: How much do you mess with a player’s swing?

I’m not sure that there’s a universal answer to that question for every player, and it could even change for an individual over the course of their career. As one example, Dante Bichette has talked about how he tried not to mess with his son Bo Bichette‘s swing as he’s progressed as a ballplayer over the years, and the results have obviously been positive in that situation.

As for Vlad Jr., the Blue Jays have been working with him to maximize the raw power that he’s flashed at different times over his first 136 games as a pro, including when he lit up the baseball world with his performance during last year’s Home Run Derby during the All-Star break. However, hitting home runs off in that situation is very different from a live MLB game, and he’s had a hard time replicating the same lift. The launch angle stat has been a useful one when working on this area, and the numbers aren’t that flattering for Guerrero Jr.

It lead me to wondering if he’s always been this way, or if his swing has changed since he hit the big leagues. After looking into it a little further, I think the answer is probably both, or at least somewhere in between.

Looking back to his stats as a minor leaguer, there was really only one season where he showed elite power, which was in 2018 when he hit 20 home runs across three levels and 357 at-bats. In particular he slugged 15 home runs in 234 at-bats while in Double-A that year, while also hitting .402 at that level in the process. That season in particular set up the expectations of stardom for Vlad Jr. in the big leagues, and he’s struggled to replicate that success since. It’s guard to gauge his power stats from other years, especially because of his youth at the time, and the belief that the power would develop.

As for his swing, I think it’s safe to say that it’s changed a bit since he’s hit the highest level. That said, there could be multiple reasons for that, both as he adjusts to facing off against the best pitchers in the world, and while he has multiple coaches and data analysts trying to “fix” what he’s doing. I wasn’t so sure that a lot had changed, but then I came across a tweet from @downtoblack yesterday that showed a pretty distinctive difference. Have a look for yourself. 

There are two things to take note of. One, Vlad definitely isn’t using his legs in the same way in the more recent video, and it appears that would be a negative development. We’re only looking at one example here, but still, the way he loads his legs and his hips doesn’t look anywhere near as confident or fluid.

Secondly, yes, his body has changed, and that’s a touchy subject. As far as I’m concerned, it has nothing to do with his performance at the plate, his launch angle, or anything else, but I know that not everyone agrees with me on that. I’m far less concerned about it, especially now that he’s been moved away from third base, and I think it’s a very overblown discussion. As far as this video example in particular, it’s also important to keep in mind that the first video is from 2018 when Vlad Jr. was still just 19 years old. He was always going to fill out more as he entered adulthood, and I don’t think it should be a cause for concern.

After all of that, let’s get back to the original question. How much should the Blue Jays be messing with Vlad Jr’s swing, or anyone else’s for that matter? Right now as I look at the recent footage from Guerrero Jr., even as he’s been hitting a little better, he does still appear at least a bit of synch from where we’ve seen him in the past. Who knows, that could be due in part to the Blue Jays trying to get him to swing with a better launch angle, or for another reason altogether.

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I’m not going to pretend to be a hitting expert, but I don’t feel like Vlad Jr. is swinging in a way that you just leave him alone and let him work it out. I typically lean more in that direction, but with a potential premier talent like this not producing the way he should be, then I’m in favour of continued tweaks and work in order to get it right. I have nothing but faith that he’ll be able to do just that in time, and I don’t think it’s an issue worth panicking over at the moment. However, it does appear to me that there are a few kinks that need to be worked out this time around, and hopefully Vlad Jr. and the Blue Jays are able to do just that in short order. When he’s right. there are very few hitters that are more entertaining to watch.