Spring training is fast approaching. The infield is set, for the most part. Vladdy and Bo are set to take their usual roles, with the rest of the infield in a state of flux. With a DH now acquired, there's likely to be a revolving door between second and third base.
There are currently thirteen infielders on the 40-man roster. Today we break down them all, discussing their 2023 and how they project in 2024.
1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
With a disappointing 2023 in the rearview and free agency just two years away, the time is now for Vladdy to step up and regain that MVP form he carried throughout 2021.
A 118 wRC+ is a respectable number if it were produced by someone like a Cavan Biggio or George Springer, as it represents being 18% better than the league average hitter at overall offensive production. But for someone like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., whose wRC+ reached a whopping 166 in 2021, 118 should feel like a number lower than his floor of production. His batted ball data remained consistent with the rest of his career, but it’s his pitch selection and discipline that need improvement.
In a highly detailed writeup by FanGraphs, they say it’s Vlad’s pitch selection causing his woes. In short it encourages him to lay off pitches in the lower portion of the strike zone and other areas he doesn’t hit well, and just focus on crushing pitches in the upper half where he has done damage throughout his career. It seems as though Vlad bought too much into the 2023 Blue Jays philosophy of "taking what the pitcher gives you", and it costed Vlad his power.
Vladdy is set to open the year batting third and playing first base, while getting his occasional starts at DH. He’s also been a model of durability over the last few years, playing in 537 of 546 games over the last four seasons. With his role all but assured, what type of production can be expected?
This is an enigma, unfortunately. Vlad can carry as many favourable projected stats and batted ball data as he wants, but unless those numbers produce real in-game results, the Blue Jays performance will suffer as a result. A variety of projections, including Steamer and ZiPS, love Vladdy for 2024. Steamer projects a 4.2 fWAR paired with a 145 wRC+, a number which would be the second best of his career, to go with 36 homers and a .285 batting average. These numbers are even better when put into perspective of the whole league, as that 145 wRC+ would tie him with Shohei Ohtani for fifth highest in MLB. Vlad would only be behind the likes of Aaron Judge, Ronald Acuna Jr., Yordan Alvarez, and Juan Soto.
The craziest part of this? It’s feasible that Vlad exceeds these expectations. He narrowly missed 50 home runs in 2021, and no one should be writing off his ability to hit .300 again and post an OPS over .900. The same dreams could turn to nightmares if you were project the worst from Guerrero, who could very well have a repeat of 2023 if the proper adjustments aren’t made.
Vlad is incredibly difficult to project, but one thing’s for sure. The success of the 2024 Blue Jays could very well hinge on the success of the face of their franchise, and his pursuit of an MVP award.