13 April, 2023
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays, a young star who guided his team to a 91-71 record and finished second to Shohei Ohtani in the battle for the American League MVP in 2021, joined that elite group. But he believed he still had another gear to climb.
The following season, the All-Star slugger aimed to improve upon his 48 home runs and 166 wRC+ from his third big-league campaign. But as he rapidly learned, relying on pure talent will only take you so far in the majors.It can be difficult to replicate an MVP-caliber performance, as Guerrero discovered while everyone was still getting used to the 24-year-old star. Pitchers began attacking him differently, concentrating their attention on the outside of the plate, exposing his flaws.
Less fastballs, which he slugged.668 against in 2021, and more soft pitches at the bottom of the strike zone started to be thrown at Toronto’s first baseman. At first, it didn’t bother him, but when baseball’s cerebral component took hold, everything changed.
Guerrero took it upon himself to carry the load as the Blue Jays struggled to perform regularly, stumbling to a 46-42 record before to Charlie Montoyo’s dismissal. He believed it was his obligation as the franchise’s icon.
Even if it could be possible in other sports, as Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani can attest, one or two players cannot carry a whole baseball club. Guerrero’s decision to take on that challenge ultimately backfired and forced him to abandon his greatest assets.
During that time, Guerrero started pursuing pitches beyond the strike zone and tried to pull nearly everything. He had a career-high 30.5 percent chase rate and a 52.1 percent ground-ball percentage as a result of his terrible habits.
Additionally, it decreased his walk rate (8.2 percent) while increasing his strikeout percentage (16.4%, the most since his rookie season). He made much fewer base hits last season, which resulted in a drop in his wOBA from.419 in 2021 to.351.
Just one season after posting a career-high 6.3 fWAR, Guerrero came up a few points short of being a three-win player. That was a huge letdown for a player of his caliber as he began his summer of introspection.
The right-handed superstar, fresh off his age-23 season, spent the winter months concentrating on his mental health and understood he needed to go back to the fundamentals. He had to relearn how to let the game come to him instead of the other way around. likewise, to exercise more patience at the plate.
This improved strategy has Guerrero overwhelming the opposition so far in an 11-game sample size, mirroring his standout 2021 performance. But he has also improved his craft to some extent.
The 6-foot-2 slugger has a remarkable.400/.472/.556 slash line through his first 53 plate appearances and is presently tied for fourth among MLB batters in hits (18). In addition, he has a 193 wRC+, two home runs, and six RBIs.
According to FanGraphs, Guerrero and teammate Matt Chapman are producing 25 hard-hit balls, which puts them both in first place in the majors for hard contact. Among big-league hitters, the young prodigy has the fifth-highest fWAR (0.7).
But even more amazingly, the two-time All-Star has demonstrated exceptional plate discipline, walking five times and striking out just three times. Additionally, he has a career-high whiff rate of 18 percent and a chase rate of 25.3 percent, which rank in the 85th and 63rd percentiles, respectively.
His swinging strike rate has increased to a career-low seven percent as a result of swinging and missing the ball less frequently.
Last season, left-handed pitchers in particular presented the most difficulties. Guerrero has avoided chasing a fastball thus far and has only struck out once against a lefty in 2023 by learning to be more patient.
Even if the sample size is tiny, Guerrero’s method has clearly been effective. His swing-and-miss totals have decreased as a result, but he has made more in-zone contact, contributing to a career-high 89.4 percent clip.
It’s crucial to establish contact. But distribution is frequently just as important as putting the ball in play. However, Guerrero has consistently batted the bulk of his balls to the pull side in every season prior to the current one; this is another subject of attention for 2023.
Guerrero’s capacity to let balls travel has been improved as a result of enhancing his plate discipline, much like Bo Bichette’s strategy. Toronto has the most opposite-field hits (38) in the majors this season, according to the team standard established by manager John Schneider on the first day of spring training.
Eight of those 38 hits have come from Guerrero, whose base hits have been off-balance roughly half the time. Though it has resulted in more than just opposite-field hits, Schneider’s advice has been heeded because Guerrero has been kept in the middle of the field.
He is no longer throwing outside pitches in an effort to chase pull-side home runs. Instead, he can stay back and drive those pitches straightaway and to right-center, which are his two most dangerous spots, while opposing teams are still throwing him away.Guerrero has done so with a pull percentage of 46.5 percent in 11 games, the greatest rate of his career over a full season. He concluded 2022 with a pull percentage of 37.6%, for reference.
If you still needed more confirmation, consider that two of his top three exit velocities this season — a 115.5 mph single and a 112.3 mph groundout — have been made straightaway.
Guerrero’s situation has significantly improved in 2023. As a result, he has been more eager to hand off the ball to his teammates than to attempt to tackle all of his club’s problems at once. Of course having additional support behind you helps.
This season, Chapman and rookie Daulton Varsho have been among the few to play behind Guerrero, who now leads the majors in fWAR (1.1). However, both must keep on producing in order to help keep this winning combination going, which hasn’t been a problem thus far.
The Blue Jays have scored runs easily and are at 7-4. But preventing them has proven to be much more difficult. But Toronto has more than enough firepower to keep itself afloat as the starting rotation works to fix its problems.
It will undoubtedly assist in that aspect if Guerrero gets back to MVP form, especially this weekend when the team is attempting to slow down the 12-0 Tampa Bay Rays.