Is it paramount that the Blue Jays move Vlad Jr off third base, considering the lacking defense that folks keep talking about?
The Toronto Blue Jays have one of the best young stars in all of Major League Baseball in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He is going to be something special for years to come. His rookie season resulted in a somewhat disappointing 15 HR, but a respectable slash line of .272/.339/.772 and a wRC+ of 105. It wasn’t what we’d dreamed on, but it was OK. His defense, on the other hand, was another matter, leading folks to question whether it was time to move him to first base.
At the Hot Corner, Vlad put up a Def rating of -10.6, which was made up of -3 DRS and a UZR/150 of -14.6. But, it was even worse than that as MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson pointed out:
The numbers back up the eye test for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., which is that he particularly struggles while moving in on a ball.
Of his -16 OAA, -10 of those OAA came on balls he moved in on (the third-worst among qualified infielders). #BlueJays
— Keegan Matheson (@KeeganMatheson) January 8, 2020
So, yeah. His defense left a lot to be desired. We know that this is something the club and he will work on, as well as his physical conditioning, which go hand in hand. We also know that for the 2020 season, he will be given lots of room to figure things out on the defensive side of things. The guy is still just 20 yrs old, so there is so much time to do so. However, if the Blue Jays are going to move into the “contenders” category, they’ll need strong defense around the diamond, so does that necessitate the moving Vlad off the position sooner, rather than later?
It might be worthwhile to look at the winning teams from the last year and see what kind of defense they got from their third baseman. Obviously, this is not a scientific, historical study, but I wanted to see if a winning team can have a third baseman who put up similarly disappointing numbers. So, let’s take a look. Each player mention played in at least 100 games, with the exception of Yandy Diaz and Matt Duffy, who combined to make 100.
Yankees: Gio Urshela: In an unlikely turn of events, Urshela took the third base job and ran with it, hitting 21 HR and putting up 3.1 fWAR. Setting aside how in the world the Yankees got this out of the guy who barely lasted on a bad Blue Jays team, let’s take a look at his D. He put up -4 DRS, a UZR/150 of -3.4 and 0 OAA. Obviously, this defense was not as bad as Vlad’s, but it was on the bad side. What saved Urshela is that the Yankees were such a stacked team that they could afford defense like that.
Rays: Yandy Diaz: -1 DRS, -6.8 UZR/150 and 1 OAA in 79 games. /Matt Duffy: -2 DRS, -26.3 UZR/150 and -2 OAA in 46 games. For a team like the Rays to do as well as they’ve done over the last few years, they’ve had to do all the little things well right from the front office through to every position on the field. So, you would think you’d see a Gold Glove on the Hot Corner, but Evan Longoria is gone and the Diaz/Duffy combo didn’t exactly provide stellar D. That said, between the two of them, they managed -1 OAA, which is much better than Vlad.
Twins: Miguel Sano: -5 DRS, -19.9 UZR/150 and -3 OAA. If we’re talking comparisons, Sano might be the most comparable to Vlad among this group, both in physical stature and defensive output. Like Vlad, Sano is a bat first third baseman. If he continues to hit 34 HR, the Twins will probably take his defense as part of the package. While his defense was not great, it was still worth 13 OAA more than Vlad’s.
Astros: Alex Bregman: 7 DRS, 5.3 UZR/150 and 4 OAA. Now we’re starting to get into the good defenders. On his way to a 8.5 fWAR season, he put up insane offensive numbers in his third full season. His Off rating was 58.2, which makes his the kind of bat you find playing time for. That said, his defense proved to be quite valuable as well considering it earned him runner up in the 2019 Gold Glove race. Bregman was quite clearly the kind of third baseman the Blue Jays would love to see Vlad become, the kind that a winning team enjoys.
Atlanta: Josh Donaldson: 15 DRS, 2.1 UZR/150 and 8 OAA. We’re all familiar with what this guy brings to the table and 2019 saw him bounce right back to that as he was a finalist for the 2019 NL Gold Glove. He left some big shoes to fill for Vlad on the defensive side of things and he was a major reason Atlanta made the playoffs. It might be asking too much for Vlad to one day grow into the defender that Donaldson is, though.
Nationals: Anthony Rendon: 2 DRS, 2 UZR/150 and 2 OAA. While Rendon’s numbers don’t initially impress, he was also a finalist for the 2019 NL Gold Glove. Like some of these others, Rendon’s offensive production means you put him in everyday, but the fact that his defense was a positive makes him another ‘total package’. Turning to the theme of this piece, time will tell if his presence will actually lead to winning for the Angels.
Cardinals: Matt Carpenter: 0 DRS, -3.3 UZR/150 and 6 OAA. Carpenter’s defense might be a good bar for which Vlad and the Blue Jays should aim. Expecting Vlad to improve to the level of Donaldson in one season is just plain dumb. However, setting a goal to improve to 0 DRS is certainly realistic. Though, expecting a jump 22 OAA to match Carpenter’s sounds a tad silly.
Dodgers: Justin Turner: -7 DRS, -12.9 UZR/150 and 4 OAA. The Dodgers were so good that they could carry the ‘weaker’ defense that Turner brought in his age 34 season. While his defensive numbers are comparable to Vlad’s, it doesn’t make much of a difference to the fortunes of his team since they have talent everywhere.
Conclusion: Vlad Jr put up the worst season of all the above third baseman based on OAA and only Sano, Urshela and Turner had worse DRS values and only Sano had a worse UZR/150 score. Duffy’s -26.3 was much worse, but he only played 46 games. The point here is that Vlad Jr had a worse defensive season than this group.
We started this by asking if the Blue Jays could win with the kind of defense Vlad put up in 2019. And, the answer is “maybe”. First of all, the kid is only 20, so there is so much time for him to develop his reaction time, first step, etc. He can learn to improve. Secondly, one player’s defense is not going to dictate whether his team makes the playoffs or not. A playoff team is good all over the field and the Blue Jays are not that…yet. So much more goes into their fortunes than that. Just ask 7 time Gold Glove winner, Nolan Arenado.
Does Vlad need to improve his defense? Absolutely. Do the fortunes of the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays depend on it? No. He will be given time to improve. The team will be better next season, but they aren’t looking to contend anyway. By the time 2021 rolls around, they can re-evaluate the defense of their stud third baseman. IF he repeats his 2019, then we can start to entertain the idea of a position switch. But, even then, the club’s wins and losses won’t squarely be on his glove.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.