All offseason, we heard about former top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr.s weight loss, and how he dropped over 40 lbs. Collectively as a fan base, I think we were all hopeful that these shedded pounds would help Vladdy at the dish, and allow him to fully tap into his potential that we heard so much about back in 2017 and 18.
So far this year, the young first baseman has looked like a completely different hitter than what we witnessed over the past two seasons. Vladdy has looked more like the player we saw back when he was in New Hampshire and Buffalo, not just physically, but in his approach at the plate as well.
Carrying less weight is definitely a major factor in Guerrero Jr’s early success, as he seems more agile, and looks so much quicker when swinging the bat. Though losing weight is definitely a key piece in Vladdy’s improvement, I think that a change in his approach has helped him more than anything so far this year.
In past seasons, Vladdy has gotten way too pull happy, which is when a hitter tries to crush everything to the pull side (for Vladdy this would be left field). This is never a good habit to get into as a hitter, as this caused Guerrero Jr to start opening his front shoulder too early and getting long in his swing. As a result of this, he ended up rolling over on a lot of pitches, which is why he hit so many ground balls to third base last year.
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To start this season, Vladdy looks to be using the whole field more, and is really working up the middle. This has forced him to stop getting out in front of balls and beating them into the ground, and has allowed him to stay on pitches longer, which has led to more hard contact in the air.
Over his first two games, Guerrero Jr has gone 2-5, with both of his knocks being line drives to centre field. This is a testament to his approach at the plate as he was perfectly content taking what the pitcher gave him, staying up the middle during both AB’s, instead of trying to get out in front of the ball and pull it to left field.
Vladdy is still generating a ton of power with this new approach, as his first hit of the season against Yankees ace Gerrit Cole was clocked at 114.1MPH and was the hardest base hit off Cole since StatCast was introduced back in 2015.
Guerrero Jr’s new approach seems to also be helping him with his plate discipline. We often saw Vladdy fooled by breaking balls earlier in his career, as he would get caught flailing at them, especially with two strikes. Staying up the middle has helped Vladdy lay off breaking balls in the dirt as he’s no longer trying to get out in front of pitches and is letting the ball travel more, which is helping him stay on off-speed stuff.
The Montreal-born slugger nearly walked more than he struck out in his final year in the minors, but we haven’t really seen that same kind of plate discipline in the big leagues so far. Staying up the middle is giving him the extra split second to recognize what pitch is coming and is allowing him to get on base more.
Vladdy has looked fantastic at the plate to start the season. Yes, it is still very early and there’s still plenty of baseball to be played, but I can’t help getting excited from the improvements that I have seen in Guerrero Jr’s game, as getting 2018 Vladdy back would be a huge boost to this lineup.