Blue Jays: Focus on going the other way is paying off for Guerrero Jr.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is displaying a proclivity to hit balls the other way for the Blue Jays, and that’s only making him more dangerous
If you’re one of the lucky few able to get a ticket inside TD Ballpark in Dunedin and want to grab a coveted Vladimir Guerrero Jr. home run ball, the best place to station yourself is the WestJet Flight Deck in right-center field.
Guerrero has made hitting home runs to the opposite field into an art form so far in 2021. In the first inning of the Blue Jays game against the Philadelphia Phillies and starter Aaron Nola on Saturday, Guerrero hit his eighth home run to either center or right this season, tied with J.D. Martinez, Shohei Ohtani, and Salvador Perez for most in the league.
The homer is indicative of the approach Guerrero has adopted at the plate this season. On a 3-1 count, Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto set up outside and called for a fastball. Nola missed his spot and left the 94 mph pitch in the middle of the plate. Instead of trying to pull the ball, Guerrero hung back, got a good look at the pitch, then unleashed his mighty swing in the form of a 107-mph towering shot that became a souvenir for somebody 409 feet away in the flight deck.
Guerrero now has 11 home runs this season, but only three of them have been pulled. He’s hit four to right-field, one behind Martinez. Five of his last six home runs have all been to either center or right. Guerrero is batting .409 with a 1.318 OPS when he tries to go the other way. The approach, expected more from a veteran than a 22-year-old in just his third big-league season, is making him into one of the most feared sluggers in the Majors.
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“I think it means he’s seeing the ball better. He’s letting the ball travel more,” manager Charlie Montoyo said following the Blue Jays 4-0 win on Saturday. “And that’s why he’s having good at-bats and that’s why he’s going to the opposite field more. He’s doing a great job of that. He’s been doing it the whole season so far.”
Guerrero already has nine hits to the opposite field this season. In 2020, he only had 11 in 60 games and hit .344; his OPS was more than 400 points lower than it is this season. Nearly 70 percent of his 44 hits have been either up the middle or the other way.
He’s cooled off somewhat from his hot start, but Guerrero’s numbers still rank among the top hitters in the game. He’s still hitting the ball hard and he’s still getting on-base. The home run on Saturday was his 17th base hit at least 107 mph, second only to Giancarlo Stanton. He’s now reached base 74 times this season, the most in the league.
The Blue Jays are 6-3 in games Guerrero has homered in. The club has only won twice this season when Guerrero doesn’t reach base. If Guerrero, more patient, more selective, and hitting the ball harder than ever, is contributing, the Blue Jays lineup is tough to beat.