Blue Jays: Don’t forget EE, and leave Vlad Guerrero Jr. at first base
With the Blue Jays infield defence struggling, the temptation to move Vladimir Guerrero Jr. back to third base is a real thing. However, for those of us that remember “EE”, it makes sense that the Jays are reluctant to do that.
EE was a nickname that was given to Edwin Encarnacion during his early days in Toronto. The name obviously starts with his initials, but it became a running joke based on how many errors he was making as a third baseman. He made 18 errors at the hot corner over just 95 games in 2010, and another eight more in just 36 games in 2011. That’s when the Blue Jays decided they might be better off moving him across the diamond to first, and that decision changed Encarnacion’s career.
Removing the pressure to contribute on defence (or even just not to mess up as often having to throw across the diamond) transformed Encarnacion’s production as a hitter. By 2012 he was splitting his time between first base and designated hitter, and that year he finished 11th in AL MVP voting and never looked back. While no two players are the same, I can’t imagine the Blue Jays aren’t keeping this story in mind when it comes to how they deal with Vlad Jr.
That has to especially be the case after the way his 2021 campaign has started. Vlad Jr. entered last night’s game hitting .383/.513/.650 over his first 60 at-bats, and he looks like a different player in the batter’s box. A huge element of that success is the confidence he’s been operating with, and while getting himself into much better shape over the winter is likely the biggest reason for that, it can’t hurt that he doesn’t have as much pressure on defence.
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The temptation to try Vlad Jr. back at third base would be motivated by a few factors. First and foremost, it’s ultimately where the budding star wants to be playing every day, even if he understands why he’s playing first right now and has embraced the move. Secondly, it’s been a very rough transition to the hot corner for Cavan Biggio so far, and there’s a legit argument that Vlad Jr. couldn’t do a whole lot worse.
Of course, what’s most important in this situation is maintaining the maximum offensive contribution from Vlad Jr., and considering how well things are going for him so far this season, I wouldn’t consider changing a thing about his routine. There’s probably no harm in giving him the occasional start at third base, or having him play there after substitutions take place later in a game, but I don’t think a full-time move is in the cards at all.
Of course, with the way the Blue Jays’ infield defence has been performing it would be hard to fault Charlie Montoyo if he decided to give it a try. However, with the history of success of Edwin Encarnacion in a similar situation, I’d lean toward letting Vlad Jr. stay where he is and focus on what he does best.