No pitcher wants to become a footnote in the story of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s career. Nobody wants to have their name as the answer to this eventual Jeopardy question: “Which Major League pitcher gave up Vladdy’s first big league home run?”
After one week in the big leagues, five games, Vladdy’s received only a handful of pitches to hit. Through 18 at-bats, he’s been fed nothing but a steady diet of breaking balls. It shouldn’t come as much surprise that opponents are cautiously pitching to Guerrero, but the sheer lack of hittable pitches is noteworthy.
While he’s given a ride to a few pitches thus far, Guerrero has yet to really get ahold of a ball. During his very first game in Toronto, he mis-hit a ball to the warning track. The hardest hit ball of his career remains that 106.8 MPH ground out to first base in his MLB debut.
Everyone’s patiently waiting for Vladdy to display his light-tower power from double-A and triple-A, but the kid needs a pitch to hit, first. Pitchers around the league don’t want their namesake associated with allowing the first home run of Guerrero’s career.
He’s seen very few quality pitches worthy of taking a hack at. Among MLB hitters with at least 50 pitches seen this season, Guerrero has been thrown the highest percentage of pitches outside the strike zone.
|1||Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||56||65.9|
|5||Lourdes Gurriel Jr.||96||59.6|
It’s interesting to note that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is on this list as well, mostly because the book was out on him early this season; his kryptonite was fastballs up in the zone and sliders below the knees.
Subsequently, Guerrero’s also seen the fewest percentage of pitches in baseball inside the strike zone, with 34.1 percent of total pitches over the heart of the plate. His pitch charts from Baseball Savant show a smattering of fastballs inside the zone and a trail of sliders down and away.
Drill this down even further and Vladdy’s seen the lowest percentage of pitches in the majors over the “heart” of the plate (hat tip to @James_in_TO for that one). Where Cam Gallagher leads all hitters with 38.4 percent of pitches over the heart of the plate, Guerrero has 10.6 percent.
As a hitter with a tremendous amount of plate discipline, Guerrero’s taken a lot of close calls. Most of them have gone the other way, which often puts him behind in the count and that’s when pitchers try to tempt him with breaking balls and off-speed pitches.
This is only five games worth of data, but Vladdy’s seen a grand total of three … yes, three pitches inside the strike zone when he’s behind in the count. One of those was a fastball, the others were a slider and two-seamer.
Baseball is a game of adjustments. This is the league adjusting to Guerrero’s ability to destroy a fastball thrown down the middle of the plate. Despite being pitched to like Barry Bonds, it hasn’t fazed Vladdy all that much. He’s still drawn three walks and is averaging 4.05 pitches per plate appearance.
Outside of a few wild hacks, he hasn’t deviated from his approach at the plate or expanded the strike zone. It’s not as though Guerrero’s getting beat with velocity, either. He swung and missed on exactly one heater this season. It was a 93 MPH high fastball from the Angels’ Griffin Canning during Tuesday’s game.
Sooner or later, someone will throw a fastball into Guerrero’s wheelhouse and he’ll destroy it. When Vladdy does eventually go yard, it will probably be as majestic as everyone hopes it will be.