Blue Jays: Vlad Guerrero Jr. long past Bell, and closing in on Donaldson
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will end up as one of the top candidates for the AL MVP award in 2021, but how does his compare to Blue Jays MVP’s of the past?
Since I’m growing tired of hearing about Vlad Jr. vs. Shohei Ohtani lately, the likely top-two finishers in this year’s American League voting, I thought it might be fun to compare Guerrero Jr. to a pair of Blue Jays award winners of the past.
The first MVP in franchise history was back in 1987 with the award going to a 27 year old George Bell. The slugging outfielder finished that season slashing .308/.352/.605 with 47 home runs and an AL-leading 134 RBI. Bell was an All-Star that year, and he also picked up a well-deserved Silver Slugger award. According to baseballreference.com his efforts were worth 5.0 bWAR, and Fangraphs valued his performance at 5.3 fWAR.
The second MVP in franchise history wasn’t all that long ago, even if it’s starting to feel like it’s been a while since Josh Donaldson had his debut season as a Blue Jay. The third baseman was about as good as it gets after coming over from Oakland in an offseason trade, slashing .297/.371/.568 with 41 home runs and also with an AL-leading 123 RBI. Like Bell, he was also an All-Star and Silver Slugger award winner during his MVP campaign. In all baseballreference.com scores Donaldson with a bWAR value of 7.1 for that season, and Fangraphs comes in at a much higher rating of 8.7.
So how does Vladimir Guerrero Jr. compare to those two former Blue Jays MVP’s with 16 games to go? In this context, the 22 year old just continues to impress.
Heading into their series-opener with the Twins on Friday night, Guerrero Jr. is slashing .317/.406/.611 with 45 home runs and 103 RBI. Those 16 games represent roughly 10% of the full 162 game slate, so he may very well push for or exceed 50 home runs, and finish with somewhere between 110-120 RBI. The young phenom also has a real chance to win the Triple Crown if he can finish up strong as well.
One of the reasons that I like the WAR statistic is because it gives us at least a rough comparison of players from different eras, and that helps us a bit with this situation. As of now Vlad Jr. has earned 6.2 bWAR according to Baseball Reference, and Fangraphs has him at 6.5, again with 16 games to play and increase those marks. It’s not a perfect comparison by any means, and Guerrero Jr. likely doesn’t get the same defensive credit as a first baseman compared to Donaldson at third, or Bell in the outfield, but it does give us some reference anyway.
His current pace would see him finish with 6.9 bWAR and 7.2 fWAR, which are incredible marks. However, at the end of the day it looks like Guerrero Jr. will fall just short of Donaldson’s MVP season, at least by the fWAR measure. That’s nothing to be ashamed of for a 22 year old who is playing in his first full 162 game season as a big leaguer, and it’s worth noting that he’s far exceeded Bell’s WAR values from his MVP season back in 1987.
The only thing really standing in the way of Vlad Jr. collecting an MVP trophy of his own is the two-way phenom in L.A. by the name of Shohei Ohtani. The Japanese sensation has posted a fWAR of 7.2 between his work as a hitter and starting pitcher, and 7.6 bWAR as well. While he’s the heavy favourite at this point, there are reports that he may not pitch again this year. Add that to Guerrero Jr. passing him in home runs and potentially leading his team to a playoff spot, the MVP race might not be totally over just yet. Regardless of what happens there, Guerrero Jr’s 2021 campaign will go down as one of the best in Blue Jays franchise history.