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Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has arrived

The first two years of Vlad Jr.’s career were decent but disappointing. Now, he’s making up for lost time.

Los Angeles Angels v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s first game was easily the most anticipated debut of 2019 and arguably the most hyped since Stephen Strasburg’s in 2010. Unlike Strasburg, Vlad Jr. didn’t succeed immediately. After weeks of languishing in the minors and having his mammoth dingers be sacrificed in the name of service time, Guerrero “only” went 1-for-4 with a double. The controlled violence of his swing was on display—he looked ready—but it would be another 16 days before his next extra base hit. He eventually got hot in middle of May, but he finished the first half with a slash line of .249/.328/.413 for a 97 wRC+. His second half was a little better, mostly buoyed by a hot streak around the beginning of August, but he ultimately ended the year hitting .272/.339/.433 for a 105 wRC+.

It only shows how high expectations were that an above-average line from a 20-year-old was considered a disappointment. The following year was a bit better, but a 112 wRC+ was still well below what we hoped we would see from Vladito. We’re only a few short weeks into the 2021 season (just barely beyond the threshold for service time manipulation), but what we’ve seen from Vlad Jr. so far hasn’t just met expectations, it has obliterated them.

Coming into Tuesday, Guerrero is hitting .389/.507/.667 which has been good enough for a .501 wOBA and a 232 wRC+. In 16 games, Vlad has already been worth 1.2 fWAR, or twice what he was worth in the first 183 games of his career. We’ve seen Vlad this hot before; the aforementioned August 2019 hot streak peaked with a .531 wOBA over a 15-game rolling window. This time, when/if Vlad comes down, he’s less likely to crater.

FanGraphs

Guerrero isn’t just crushing the ball. He’s also displaying unprecedented levels of discipline. Guerrero has walked as often as he’s struck out this year, posting a 16.4 percent rates in both categories. Across the board, he’s been more patient in the early goings. Guerrero is swinging at just 41.1 percent of pitches, down from 47.9 percent the year before. In addition, he’s chasing far fewer pitches out of the zone. Per Baseball Savant, his Chase% this season is 18.2 percent, a 6.2-point drop from 2020 and 2020 was a 4.3-point drop from 2019.

His command of the strike zone is clearly maturing. Breaking it down further, Vlad is still protecting the edges of the zone, which Baseball Savant refers to as the Shadow Zone, while laying off of pitches in the Chase Zone. Out of 64 pitches, thrown in the Chase, Guerrero has only swung at six of them. So far, Guerrero’s ability to lay off is twice as good as it was last year.

Swing Rate by Region

Year Shadow Pitches Shadow Swing% Chase Pitches Chase Swing% Chase and Waste Pitches Chase and Waste Swing%
Year Shadow Pitches Shadow Swing% Chase Pitches Chase Swing% Chase and Waste Pitches Chase and Waste Swing%
2019 872 51.6 474 24.5 675 19.3
2020 378 52.4 218 21.1 305 16.7
2021 103 51.5 64 9.3 97 8.2
Baseball Savant

Increased patience hasn’t just led to more walks but better quality of contact. His hard-hit rate of 48.8 is two points lower than it was in 2020, but Guerrero is getting the ball in the air more often. Guerrero’s average launch angle is up to 12.9 in 2021. Trading two points of hard-hit is definitely worth a 15.1-point drop in ground ball percentage.

Of course, it’s still early. Even if he keeps hitting the ball like he has, Guerrero’s not going to keep up a .436 BABIP. He’ll come down eventually if only because there’s nowhere left to climb. If Guerrero can maintain this discipline though, he doesn’t have that far to fall.


Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.