With the Blue Jays pretty much at the quarter pole of the 2021 schedule, there’s been one standout performance so good that it’s worthy of early MVP discussion.
Of course, I’m talking about Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who has transformed into one of the best hitters in baseball and is having a breakout year at the plate at just 22 years old. After another stellar performance on Sunday the slugging infielder is slashing .319/.440/.609 and has already put up 11 home runs and 30 RBI. It’s a long season, but if we simply multiplied his early numbers by four to equal a full schedule, we’re talking about a .300+ hitter with more than 40 home runs and 120 RBI. That kind of production doesn’t grow on trees.
I realize that it’s still very early in the year when it comes to talking about hardware, but it’s still worth noting that Guerrero Jr. has been among the best in baseball thus far. If the season were to end today, he’d receive legitimate MVP consideration in the American League, and I thought it might be interesting to see who else would be in that early conversation.
For what it’s worth, Vlad Jr. has already posted 1.9 bWAR, which puts him 8th in all of baseball, and sixth in the American League among position players according to Baseball Reference. The group ahead of him at the moment is an interesting lot, including Byron Buxton (2.8), Isiah Kiner-Falefa (2.5), J.D. Martinez (2.1), Xander Bogaerts (2.1), and Mike Trout (2.0), with a few other notable names not far behind.
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If we turn to Fangraphs for an fWAR rating, the story is even better for young Vlad. There he sits 9th among all players across both leagues, 6th among position players, and 4th out of AL position players, trailing just Buxton, Trout, and Bogaerts. Of the pitchers in that top ten, the list includes Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, and Corbin Burnes, so we’re talking about pretty elite company based on the early results.
I’ll again acknowledge that everything could drastically change over the next 120 or so games, for both Vlad Jr. and several other MVP contenders around the American League. That said, here’s what Vlad Jr. has working for him so far in the early discussion, at least as far as his fellow future All-Stars.
Starting with Mike Trout, arguably the best player in baseball is going to have to find a way to will his team to the playoffs, otherwise he likely falls short of the award that should probably be named after him at some point. In no way am I suggesting that Vlad Jr. is a better overall player than Trout, but that’s not what this award is about. Instead, team performance carries a significant weight, and for an Angels team that’s started out 17-22, the early argument isn’t there in that regard. We’ll see if that changes, but the Angels haven’t exactly taken advantage of having the best player in the game so far, and this year hasn’t been much different.
As for Martinez and Bogaerts in Boston, right now they both have a pretty solid case to be made, especially as the Red Sox unexpectedly sit at the top of the AL East standings. That said, situations like this often lead to a split vote when two players from the same team are in the MVP race, and that could work against them here. As far as the Red Sox early success, you can count me among those that predict they’ll bottom out at some point sooner than later. Their pitching staff is better than I thought it would be, but I still think they’re the 4th best team in the division, and that won’t help Martinez or Bogaerts when it comes to collecting votes. Of course, I have to be right about the Red Sox eventual regression for this particular point to matter.
When it comes to Buxton, it’s a shame that he’s back on the Injured List again, where he’s spent so much of his career. It looked like he was finally putting together the 5-tool potential he’s flashed for years in Minnesota, but the injury bug bit him as it so often has. Even if he can make a healthy return in a month and prove this breakout wasn’t a fluke, I have a hard time seeing him keep up in the MVP race by season’s end, especially with so much missed time. As for Isiah Kiner-Falefa, his early performance for the Rangers has been pretty incredible, but it’s hard to imagine that he’ll keep up this level of production, or that the Rangers will compete enough for it to matter.
Now that I’ve talked about the best of the rest, let’s talk a little more about Vlad Jr’s case as the early MVP. Not only has posted the elite numbers we’ve already discussed, but he’s legitimately carried the Blue Jays into a favourable spot in the standings. He hasn’t done it alone, but there’s no one who has been more important to the win column that Guerrero in 2021. For a team like the Blue Jays, who are viewed as a group that should compete for a playoff spot but aren’t guaranteed anything, the narrative is easy enough to spin. Where would the Blue Jays be without Vlad Jr. right now? I know they wouldn’t be five games above .500.
Of course, what matters most will be if Guerrero Jr. can continue with the elite hitting that he’s shown so far in 2021. His at-bats have become must-watch TV, and even if he doesn’t win any hardware this year, you don’t have to tell Blue Jays fans what he’s meant to this team so far.
Simply put, he’s been one of the best hitters in the world, and it’s been a treat to watch.