Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Seems to be Back, But There’s A Catch

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is starting to put the ball in play for the Blue Jays after a slow start to the regular season, but there's a catch.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 4: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of Toronto Blue Jays smiles in the dugout befor playing the Baltimore Orioles in their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on June 4, 2024 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

After a disappointing 2023 season, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was looking to bounce back quickly this season. The Toronto Blue Jays slugger was not the lone Toronto batter to produce below expectations last season but he is held in a higher regard, mostly because fans know what the Montreal, Que. product is capable of after an MVP-worthy campaign back in 2021.

Last year, Guerrero posted a .264/.345/.444 slash line with a team-leading 26 home runs and 94 RBI en route to his third straight All-Star appearance. The 26 round trippers were his lowest total since the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign and he has seen a decrease in power dating back to that 2021 season when he posted a league-high 48 homers (tied with Salvador Perez).

He continued to post solid Statcast lines, ranking above the 80th percentile in numerous categories including xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, K%, Hard-Hit%, and average exit velocity, where he sat at 92.1 MPH. Still, the long ball eluded him even with an increase in his launch angle (10.4) that rivalled his 2021 season where he generated a 9.4.

Looking to find that MVP form, Guerrero got off to a rough start this season, owning a .678 OPS and a .331 OBP through April with just three big flies to his name.

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He was walking at a high clip, which was helping his OBP numbers, but the Jays were struggling to produce runs with consistency (amongst a plethora of other issues) and that put them in the basement of the AL East – a tough place to be for any club looking to contend. While he wasn’t striking out at an enormous rate, he was making some questionable swing decisions that were putting him in tough hitter counts and ones that he was not able to capitalize on.

That changed in May, as Guerrero started to put the barrel on the ball and the 25-year-old has seen a drastic change in his offensive stats over the past month. Through 29 games, Guerrero has gone 41-for-112 (.366) and has posted a .450 OBP while collecting 17 walks alongside 17 strikeouts.

He has put forward a .491 SLG since then, which is mostly attributed to his numerous singles over the five doubles and three home runs he put up as the long ball continues to elude the slugger (at least in terms of regularity).

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Is in the Midst of a Power Outage

Guerrero has just six home runs on the season, three before May and three since. He has gone weeks this season without a home run, most notably from April 10 to May 5 and from then to May 23, which sounds eerily similar to last season when the slugger didn’t collect a home run at the Rogers Centre until June 23.

It appears that the Jays slugger is returning to his old form in terms of finding ways to reach base, although not to the same degree that fans have been used to seeing. While it might seem unfair to critique a player who owns a .291/.383/.410 line on a feeble Jays squad, his raw power is on display on a nightly basis but it isn’t equaling out to damage in terms of extra bases and home runs; at least at the level one would expect given his Statcast numbers.

He sits above the league average in terms of bat swing speed (75.5 MPH) and has numerous balls in play sitting in triple digits, including a max exit velocity of 117.6 MPH (on a double) while producing two home runs at or over 450 feet (33.3% of his homers this season).

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Since May 1, Guerrero currently sits second in OBP, third in average, and 12th in wRC+ (165) but 44th in SLG – another testament to how he is putting the ball in play but not for power.

His Savant page is full of red values, many of which sit above the 80th percentile, but his launch angle has seen quite a dip to 5.4 while he is also finding the sweet spot percentage at a lower rate (28.2), which may be an indicator of why he isn’t seeing higher home run and SLG totals.

He’s barreling the ball at an 11.7% clip but is hitting more line drives (25.5%) and groundballs (52.7%) versus the fly balls (17%), which is indicative of his launch angle stats, but he hits it so hard and finds gaps on the ground and just over the infielders that see him get on base for singles while the Jays bats behind him in the lineup struggle to get him home.

While the jury is still out on whether Guerrero may ever find the same bat that produced 48 home runs in 2021, the positive takeaway is that the Jays slugger seems to have put whatever was keeping him down in April on the shelf. He has 18 multi-hit games, including two four-hit affairs since May 11, and has been one of the top hitters on a team that needs him to find ways to at least get on base.

The goal moving forward will be the power translating into home runs sometime this season and it will be interesting to see where the long-ball total ranks in comparison to his previous campaigns.

Has Guerrero turned over a new leaf into becoming a contact hitter versus a 30-homer power bat? Or are there some home runs that are waiting to be unleashed for a Blue Jays club begging for offensive production?

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