Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is not a rookie. He’s not even a sophomore. But the 2021 season has, in many ways, served as his genuine introduction to big league baseball. Shohei Ohtani be damned, in any other season, Vlad Jr. would likely be taking home an American League MVP award when the season comes to its conclusion. Instead, he’ll be left with tales of offensive dominance in the year that was.
But as unintriguing as the race between two of the American League’s top performances may ultimately be, there’s another side to this coin. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. obviously comes with a certain level of pedigree. His father was, in case you were somehow unaware, a Hall of Fame level player in Montreal, Anaheim/Los Angeles, and, ahem, Texas and Baltimore. And while the prodigal son has such a long way to go before truly measuring up to his pops, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to examine just where they match up in regard to their respective breakout seasons.
We’ll go age before beauty here.
Senior’s breakout, arguably, came in 1998. He notched 677 plate appearances that year, against 27 in ‘96 and 354 in 1997. The slash in ‘98 went .324/.371/.589/.960, with a wRC+ of 145 as he hit 37 doubles, 38 home runs, and ISO’d at a .265 clip. The power was perhaps the biggest element of the breakout as he had only hit 11 homers the previous season in those 354 PAs.
The plate discipline numbers aren’t available for that point in time, but there was an aggressiveness to Vlad’s game that was never new but never seemed to bite him. His Swing% for his career was at 58.2, but he finished his big league time with a Contact% up around 80. As such, it’s no surprise that he kept his K% respectable, at 14.0 percent, while walking at a 6.2 percent clip. Ultimately, Guerrero Sr finished with his second-highest fWAR (6.7) of his career and a number that would not be surpassed until 2002, when he posted a 7.1.
As far as how he measured against his peers in 1998, Senior’s ISO ranked 17th, his wRC+ came in at 21st, and his fWAR was the 15th highest that year among 159 qualifying hitters. It was an elite year, though not quite on the level of dominance that his offspring has showcased thus far.
On the other side of that coin, Vlad Jr had far more plate appearances coming into this season than his dad (757), and there were a lot of flashes of him living up to the pedigree. What was holding him back was the fact he drove the ball into the ground almost 55 percent of the time. This year, elevation has occurred. And that means two things.
As much as I absolutely hate this phrase, Vladito’s 2021 season has been one “for the books.” He’s slashed an easy .320/.410/.614/1.024, with a .294 ISO fueled by 24 doubles and 46 home runs. His wRC+ sits at 172, while his overall fWAR comes in at 6.8. And he still has a little bit farther to go in the 2021 campaign. Like his father, Vlad Jr has managed to keep the strikeouts fairly low, at a 16.1, but he’s also walked at a very strong 12.7 percent clip, a fairly big boost from his previous two trips around the junior circuit.
In terms of the comparison to his counterparts of the day, there’s a fairly significant gap between father and son. Junior’s fWAR sits atop all 137 qualifying hitters, his ISO ranks fourth, and his wRC+ is tied with Bryce Harper above everybody else. It’s worth noting that the walk rate also sits in a respectable 15th. Interestingly, the numbers themselves are not entirely dissimilar, but the gap truly exists in how they measure against their friends of the time period.
So, to summarize:
Vlad Jr. vs. Vlad Sr.
|||Vlad Sr.||Vlad Jr.|
|||Vlad Sr.||Vlad Jr.|
It’s so interesting that these two seasons look eerily similar. Vlad Jr obviously has more power ruminating throughout his game, and he’s more willing to take a walk, but the skill set is essentially a duplicate of itself. There’s an aggression there, but also a relatively nuanced approach. It’s almost sort of paradoxical.
I can’t remember where, but when I was younger, and Vladimir Guerrero Sr. was approaching the end of his time in Montreal, I read a blurb about him in one of those season preview magazines. Probably Athlon. It said “Swings at everything. Hits everything. Hard.” That is one of my favorite sequence of words ever written down, but it also provides a perfect encapsulation of what Vladimir Guerrero Sr. was and what his kid now is. There’s just a little more patience and a touch more power in the latter.
Randy Holt is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score.