Blue Jays: Vlad Jr. admits to tiring down the stretch, and that’s okay

Oct 2, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) hits a double against Baltimore Orioles in the sixth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 2, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) hits a double against Baltimore Orioles in the sixth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

The Blue Jays enjoyed a breakout season from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in 2021, but there are reasons to believe he hasn’t come close to peaking yet.

On one hand it’s hard to believe that the 22 year old is going to top what he did in this past season. He ended up slashing .311/.401/.601 with 48 home runs and 111 RBI. He’s already been announced as a finalist for the AL MVP award, and he was just named the Hank Aaron Award winner for the American League’s top hitter in 2021.

On the other hand, there is some important perspective that we have to keep in mind. First of all, the man is still only 22 years old, and is one of the best hitters in the world at a time when his same-age peers are mostly still working through the minor league system. It’s easy to forget just how young he is after he debuted as a 20 year old in 2019. It feels like he’s been around for a while, especially because of how long he was talked about before his MLB arrival.

To the point about it feeling like he’s been around a while, it’s pretty incredible to consider that the young phenom just went through his first full-length 162 game season in the big leagues. He only played 123 games for the 2019 Jays after debuting late, and he spent some time on the sidelines as well. Last year there were only 60 games to play in, and he appeared in all of them. This season Vlad Jr. managed to stay healthy throughout the year and played 161 out of 162 games, but there were learning experiences that came with it.

Guerrero Jr. appeared on the MLB network after being announced as the Hank Aaron award winner, and talked about his breakout season. Obviously there were a lot of positive things to review, and the panel focused mostly on that. However, it was interesting that in the course of the interview, Vlad Jr. admitted that he tired out down the stretch, and even changed his pre-game approach.

The MVP candidate admitted that he started to tire late in the season, and that after consulting with the team that they made an adjustment to having him just hit the cage before a game rather than taking live batting practice. Each player would be a little different in that regard as far as what they need to do to prepare, but it’s understandable that they chose this approach if he recognized that he was starting to wear out.

In the past we’ve spent a lot of time analyzing Vlad Jr’s fitness and conditioning, which is something else that was talked about in the interview. However, I really believe that it’s an issue that can be put to rest as far as holding the slugger back from reaching his potential. He made a major commitment ahead of the 2021 season to improve in those areas, and the results were staggering. There’s no way he’ll go back on it now.

As for tiring down the stretch, there are multiple reasons I don’t see that as an issue. One, after experiencing the grind that is the MLB season, he now understands what’s being asked of his body on a first-hand basis. Each time he goes through the process he’s going to learn a little more, and will be better equipped to handle it again (at least in his 20’s). Secondly, he had just went through a major physical transformation in the months leading up to last season. That required a boatload of hard work to accomplish, and full credit goes to Vlad Jr. for putting in the time. Now that he’s starting from a much better place this winter, he can afford to rest a lot more and it will do him a lot of good.

Lastly, he’s proving to be a very smart young man, and I’m sure that he’s taken note of what was a pretty remarkable 2021 season. He’s learned what works for him, and what he needs to do in order to find success at the highest level. I have no doubt that he’ll prepare just a little differently this offseason in order to prepare for the 2022 campaign, or might even handle his workload differently as he goes through it.

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Whatever adjustments he has to make, I’m not the least bit concerned to hear the Blue Jays top young hitter admit that he was a little bit tired down the stretch. That not only explains the drop off he experienced later in the year, but it’s to be expected. All that said, I wouldn’t bet on it happening again.