“What happened to Vladdy?” and “What’s wrong with Vladdy?” were probably the two most common phrases that ran about in everyone’s mind throughout the Toronto Blue Jays 2023 season. Why was that the case? Let’s take a closer at Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and his year in review.
On the surface, Guerrero’s overall stats were actually quite respectable. In 156 games, he led the team with 26 home runs and 94 RBI, while still managing to score 78 runs, record 30 doubles, post a .264 batting average and .788 OPS. Obviously, it pales in comparison to his MVP-calibre season in 2021, but it was still considered solid run production nonetheless. What perhaps frustrated the Jays faithful throughout the year though has probably to do more with his inconsistency rather than lowered results.
At the beginning of this past season, many may have forgotten but Guerrero actually got off to a hot start right out of the gate. Up until May 4, he posted a strong .320 batting average with a .932 OPS; along with 23 runs scored, seven doubles, seven home runs, 20 RBI, 13 walks and 18 strikeouts in just 32 games played. At the time, it appeared as though 2021 Vladdy was back and was well on his way to another MVP-like season.
However, it was at that time that the young slugger ran into a major slump. In his next 41 games, he would only hit .237 with a .632 OPS. With his extensive struggles, the team would also struggle in May, as he represented one of the main leaders on the squad. When Guerrero isn't on, the team frequently isn't either.
Fortunately, Guerrero would start to turn things around prior to the All-Star break. The momentum he gained from it came just in time as it ultimately led to his victory in the 2023 MLB All-Star Home Run Derby. Unfortunately, though, that turned out to be his main highlight of his 2023 season. Following the break, he would alter once again between hot and cold streaks right until the end of the season, finishing with a .251 batting average, .790 OPS, with 36 runs scored, 11 doubles, 13 home runs and 36 RBI in 68 games for the second half of the season. Those were decent offensive numbers, but just not Vladdy-great numbers. But what the fans would remember most are the times he couldn’t come through in key moments in games to help the ballclub to victory.
Overall, if we also take a look at his advanced statistical metrics, he was constantly averaging close to the 90th percentile in the league in xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, average exit velocity, hard-hit rate and strikeout rate. But what probably led to some of his less-than-stellar at-bats that was seen frequently throughout the season was his chase rate for balls out of the strike zone, along with his inability to connect to the ball in the sweet spot of the bat. For both metrics, he ended up ranking in the lower half percentile in the league for the 2023 season. That lack of plate discipline at times drew the ire of the fanbase because they are knew Guerrero was better than that.
But beyond those offensive numbers, it was also his defensive play and baserunning in the field that garnered both positive and negative criticism throughout the season. Defensively, Guerrero did follow up his Gold Glove 2022 season with a solid showing in 2023. Overall, he committed two less errors than a year ago for a .991 fielding percentage, but with his DRS falling off drastically from 3 to -6 for the current season. However, it was his baserunning blunders throughout the year that will end up being remembered the most. Most notably was the one that occurred in the most important game of the season in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series against the Minnesota Twins. With the Jays threatening to score and Guerrero representing the tying run, he ended up getting picked off at second base. From then on, the Jays never threatened to score for the rest of the game.
One has to remember that Guerrero is still only 24-years old. Once his game matures, those minor warts in his game will be essentially eliminated. But until then, it could be tough to bear once in a while when it does happen. However, the lack of focus appeared to be happening a bit more frequently than expected in 2023, so something must be up for Guerrero to not have that right mentality in his mind.
Well, the answer to that became more apparent when it was later revealed that Guerrero’s mother was dealing with a serious health issue during most of the Jays’ 2023 season. That explained why Guerrero was often seen wearing the pink Mother’s Day sleeve on his left arm throughout the year. With something much more important to him in life constantly in his mind, it was no wonder it was difficult for him to focus at times on the game at hand. With that in mind, he should definitely be forgiven for some of his disappointments from this season as a result. Obviously, that probably wasn’t the sole reason behind Guerrero’s inconsistent struggles throughout 2023, but his effectiveness most likely was dampened a bit because of it.
As one of the key cornerstones of the franchise along with Bo Bichette, Guerrero can only get better as he heads toward his prime years in the near future. What we have to do is just be patient for the time being as he ultimately grows into the consistent, bonafide superstar that we are all desperately awaiting for.
Nevertheless, Guerrero did provide respectable offence as a whole, but he just wasn't at the level of dominance that many had expected of him. As a result, he deserves a respectable grade that he can work on in improving for the future.
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