The “real” Vlad Jr has arrived.
When I last wrote about MLB’s top prospect, it was to say that we all needed to be patient with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for a while longer. In his first 10 MLB games, his slash line was .162/.244/.189, which was nothing like the stellar offensive stats he posted in his minor league career that ultimately led to his call up.
That patience has been rewarded. During a six-game road trip through San Francisco and Chicago, Guerrero Jr. hit .333 with an OPS of 1.321. During that stretch he hit four home runs including his first MLB HR and drove in nine runs. This hot streak earned the Jays third baseman AL Player of the Week honours, hopefully his first of many awards at the major league level.
Since the Jays have come home, Guerrero Jr’s hot hitting has continued, with two hits in each of his last two home games. Fans at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday got to witness his first ever long ball in Toronto.
As welcome as this offensive outburst is, it’s worth taking a look at the reasons behind it.
When Guerrero Jr. was brought up to MLB, Montoyo had him 5th in the batting order for nine games and 4th for one game, before moving him up to the 2nd spot. While it’s understandable to not want to put too much pressure on an MLB rookie by batting him too high up, the downside to that is that further down in the order, the protection behind him isn’t likely as good.
It would be one thing if the Jays were the offensive juggernaut that there were in 2015, when they led all of MLB as a team with 891 runs scored, 127 more than the 2nd place Yankees. If this were the case, chances are they would be getting offensive contributions up and down the lineup.
As it is in 2019, the Jays are 26th out of 30 teams with 186 runs scored. Moving Guerrero Jr. to the second spot gives him the best protection they can currently offer. On most days he has hit behind hot hitting Eric Sogard and in front of the Jays’ most experienced hitter, 2017 all star Justin Smoak.
It’s likely not a coincidence that Guerrero Jr’s improved results have happened since Charlie Montoyo moved him up in the batting order. Batting 5th, he has an average of .152 and he went 1-for-4 in his lone MLB game batting 4th. In 12 games so far in the 2nd spot, he has hit .357 with all of his five home runs.
Let’s take a look at the type of pitches that Guerrero Jr. has been facing. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, we can break down the percentage of hard, breaking and off speed pitches faced on a game by game basis. Averaging out the three categories and comparing his time in the 5th spot vs the 2nd spot shows some interesting results. When in the 5th spot, Vlad faced an average of 64% hard, 28% breaking and 8% off-speed. If part of the goal of moving him up in the order was to get him more fastballs to hit, the opposite has happened. In 11 games in the 2nd spot, Vlad has faced 55% hard, 26% breaking and 19% off-speed.
Guerrero Jr’s recent success, even in the face of being pitched tougher speaks to his increasing confidence as an MLB player and ability to adjust to the highest caliber of professional pitching. While the sample size is still small, Guerrero Jr. is showing the hitting ability that made him MLB’s top prospect. Jays fans can now sit back and enjoy what he brings to the table.
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