Jays From the Couch takes a look at Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s scouting grades and project his MLB performance
What follows is a fun, hypothetical exercise in which I use Vlad Jr.’s scouting grades to project his MLB performance and compare the projection to his father’s MLB career. Do not take this post too seriously. I am not saying that Vlad Jr. will be as good or better than his awesome-at-baseball dad, nor am I saying that the only thing that Jays fans should worry about is whether he will bring us one World Series parade or multiple parades. Even the best prospects have significant risk attached, something every baseball fan knows.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get to the point of this post: using a new way to highlight just how freaking awesome a hitter Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is projected to be. His scouting grades and rankings are nothing short of amazing, with both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America assigning him an 80 hit grade, the maximum grade in (arguably) the most important tool. His 70 power grade (from both Fangraphs and Baseball America) suggest that those hits won’t disproportionately be singles.
It’s these two grades that I’m going to focus on in my comparison of the two Vlads. For one thing, these two grades match neatly with MLB statistics, less so the case with the other three tools. More importantly, these two tools are clearly going to be Vladdy Jr.’s bread and butter as a major-leaguer. Plus, they were his dad’s bread and butter too—Senior was a well above-average hitter (career 136 wRC+), but a below-average runner (-49.8 BsR) and fielder (-115 Def).
First, let’s establish the quality of hitter that Vlad Sr. was. I opted to examine his production over two time frames. Looking at his whole career is an obvious choice, though it includes his early development and late decline. That said, each of those was relatively short—his only sub-100 wRC+ seasons were his first (only 27 PA) and last (when he posted a full-season 96 wRC+). Following the general logic of Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, I also focused only on his best seven seasons for each of the stats I’ll look at. I opted for four simple statistics: two of which are reflective of his hit tool (AVG and OBP) and two of which are reflective of his power (HR/600 PA and ISO).
It probably doesn’t need to be said, but Vlad Sr. was a great hitter, equally adept at getting on base and crushing dingers. He produced career marks that were comfortably above the league average for his era. That kind of profile is uncommon. Since 1950, only four players have produced a slash line of .310/.370/.550 or better in 5000+ PA: Manny Ramirez, Larry Walker, Miguel Cabrera and Vladimir Guerrero. [Note: A player’s SLG is equal to their AVG + ISO.] I think this is a big reason for the excitement around the MLB for Vlad Jr.’s potential career. Father-son combos as good as they might be are exceptionally rare in baseball. With Senior’s 54.3 career fWAR, Junior would only need to produce 15 fWAR for them to make the Top 10 father-son duos. If he did indeed match his father’s career production, they’d end up in fourth.
Now, let’s take a look at the hit and power grades that Vlad Jr. received this winter. You know a kid has potential when the most pessimistic hit grade he receives is a 65. Nevertheless, it is those aforementioned 80 grades that he received from MLB Pipeline and Baseball America that have fans in a tizzy. That is a once-in-a-generation hit grade. His power grades are very impressive as well, only appearing modest because of his hit grades. I opted to use the simple mean of these three grades, resulting in a 75 hit grade and 68 power grade.
The interesting part is translating those grades into proper statistics. The simplest approach is to use Fangraphs’ primer for scouting grades. In it, they give readers a batting average equivalent for each hit grade and a home runs per season equivalent for each power grade. A 75 hit tool is considered equivalent to a .310 batting average, while a 70 power grade is considered equivalent to 30-35 home runs per season. Since his average power grade is actually 68, I knocked off a homer from that range.
I obviously couldn’t just stop there. Fortunately, I don’t have to. The various scouting grades reflect how a player compares to the average in each category (a 50 grade is average). A 75 hit grade means that Vlad Jr. is expected to have contact and plate discipline skills that are 2.5 standard deviations better than the average hitter. His 68 power grade implies that he is expected to generate power numbers that are 1.8 standard deviations greater than the mean. This means that I can approximate Vlad Jr.’s (or any prospect’s) expected MLB production by building a sample of major-leaguers and determining what kind of production is associated with some number of standard deviations above or below the mean.
I opted to create two samples based on performances over the last three seasons. My choice of the last three seasons is somewhat arbitrary, but the juiced ball that was introduced after 2015 All-Star break makes the choice a little bit more appropriate (since Vlad Jr. will presumably encounter the same juiced ball in the coming seasons). In each case, my goal was not to focus only on players with a high number of plate appearances. Doing so leads to survivorship bias (good players get more plate appearances), increasing the mean for each stat and potentially overstating his expected MLB performance.
The first sample looks at 1319 player-seasons of 100+ PA over the last three seasons. In this sample, Vlad Jr.’s scouting grades imply that he will produce a slash line of .340/.417/.606 during his prime, averaging 35 homers a season. Those marks are very, very similar to his pop’s. Senior (over his best seven seasons) has the edge in terms of OBP and ISO, while Junior has the edge in terms of AVG and HR.
The second sample focuses on 510 players with 250+ PA over the last three seasons (cumulatively). In this sample, Vlad Jr.’s hit numbers are a bit lower, but still higher than his father’s career marks. Similarly, his power numbers fall a little bit too. Overall, Vladdy’s hypothetical projections overlap well with his father’s career and peak marks.
Just to double-check that these samples are appropriate for our purposes, I compared the mean for AVG and HR/600 PA in each sample with its corollary in the Fangraphs scouting grade primer. The mean AVG in each of the samples was actually a little lower than the AVG that Fangraphs associated with a 50 hit tool, while the mean HR/600 PA for each sample fell within the expected range, giving me some confidence that these are appropriate samples for this sort of exercise. Coincidentally, the two samples produced the same means.
For some broader perspective of Vlad Jr.’s potential, I looked at the batters in the two samples who have produced an AVG/OBP that is 2.5 standard deviations above the mean and a HR per 600/ISO that is 1.8 standard deviations above the mean. Vlad Jr.’s hit tool is so exceptional that only one hitter met the criteria in the cumulative sample: Jose Altuve maintained a .332 AVG since 2015 (2.9 standard deviations above the sample’s mean). His power grade is a bit more common (around 5% of players met the criteria in each sample), but still very rare.
The combination of a 75 hit tool and 68 power tool is what’s truly exceptional. In the cumulative sample, Aaron Judge met those marks in terms of HR/600 PA, ISO and OBP. Bryce Harper and Mike Trout each met the criteria in terms of ISO and OBP. In the player-season sample, only three did—Bryce Harper (2015), Aaron Judge (2017) and Mike Trout (2017) each had an OBP that was at least 2.5 standard deviations above the mean and a HR per 600 and ISO that were 1.8 or more standard deviations above the mean. [Nobody with a single-season AVG that was 2.5 standard deviations above the mean met the power criteria.]
Let me conclude the way I started. This post does not say that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will be as good a hitter as his father (or Bryce Harper or Aaron Judge or Mike Trout). That is not a fact that any human being can know for sure right now. However, people whose job it is to objectively rate the MLB futures of young baseball players—and who are not Jays fans and may even struggle to pick out Toronto on a map of North America—agree that the baseline expectation for his future hitting production is roughly in line with his father’s (and a small handful of recent stars).
But first, I can’t wait to see what he does in AA!
*Featured Image Credit: JFtC
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