Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody wants to pitch to Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

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.

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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.

Rank Player Pitches Pitch %
1 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 56 65.9
2 Nicky Delmonico 60 64.5
3 Giancarlo Stanton 52 64.2
4 Daniel Palka 105 61
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.

Baseball Savant

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.

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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.

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    • The Humungus

      There are approximately 380 position players in the major leagues.

      Vlad’s 4.01 pitches per plate appearance so far would put him firmly in the top 20% of the league for pitches seen among qualified batters.

      Why bother typing if you’re just going to throw out shitty takes anyway?

      • OopsConfirmed

        I don’t think he’s completely out of line. Part of the reason Vlad’s seeing 4.01 pitches is because he’s swinging at balls (sometimes fouling them off), leading him to see more pitches when he could be standing at first base instead.

        His out of zone swing rate is 37.1%. That puts him in the highest 26% of the 392 players with at least 20 at bats. Luckily, he’s able to make contact with those out of zone pitches and (usually) foul them off at a pretty good rate with an out of zone contact rate that puts him in the top third of batters.

        With 73% of the pitches you’re seeing being out of the zone, it’s fair to say he should have a few more than 3 walks. His high pitches per plate appearance is because he’s doing the opposing pitchers the favor of extending the at-bats by swinging at balls.

        • The Humungus

          See, now that’s a better argument that what “TomHorn” said.

          He’s definitely going to swing at pitches out of the zone, but his first hit was out of the zone. When you barrel the way he does you can afford to take some Pillar-esque hacks.

          The more he understands that pitchers won’t throw him in the zone, the sooner that swing rate will drop and the walks will come. He’s not his Dad, which is scary, because imagine if his Dad could have worked a walk?

          • OopsConfirmed

            >The more he understands that pitchers won’t throw him in the zone, the sooner that swing rate will drop and the walks will come.

            This is the key thing. I’m not worried. I just think he’s amped up a bit and trying to hard. I disagree with Ian’s statement that “Outside of a few wild hacks, he hasn’t deviated from his approach at the plate or expanded the strike zone.” I think he has extended the zone. But I’m fairly certain that he’ll calm down, stop swinging and force the pitchers to throw to him.

            This is also why I think they should bat him second and put Grichuk 4th. Pitchers may be less inclined to walk him when they know that Smoak and Grichuk stand a decent chance of batting him in. Further, given Sogard’s OBP, walking Vlad runs the risk of putting both of them on in the first inning. Batting him 5th means he’s usually coming up for his first at-bat with no one on. There’s no incentive to pitch to him.

  • Moose

    He has struck out in a third of his abs but “he has a good eye, good plate discipline and pitchers aren’t throwing him strikes”. Something doesn’t jibe here.