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Why Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Should be Given an Opportunity to Play Third

Charlie Montoyo spoke to the media on Wednesday and announced that Cavan Biggio, not Vladimir Guerrero Jr., will be the team’s third baseman this season.

This news isn’t shocking but seems a bit surprising they would announce this at the beginning of Spring Training, given all the work/training Vlad did to get into shape in order to play third base. Based off the Team Guerrero YouTube channel, it looks like Vlad has put a ton of work this off-season into his defence at third, including earlier this month working with Luis Rivera.

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It feels like a wasted opportunity for Vlad to spend all this time training to play third, only to be told immediately in Spring Training that he is going to play first. First is not an easy position to pick-up, and Vlad had his struggles there last season. If you want him to become a gold glove first baseman, spending a whole off-season working on the position would have been a great start. Vlad even played Winter Ball in the Dominican Republic to get game reps at third; looking back he probably should have used that time to get better accustomed to first.

Maybe third base was only dangled in front of Vladdy to help motivate him this off-season. If that was the case it certainly seemed to work. Vlad is in much better shape after losing 42 pounds in the off-season.

It would be easier to move Vlad to first if his replacement was a proven defender at third. Thus far in the big leagues Biggio hasn’t established himself as the better option.

Position Innings DRS UZR UZR/150 OOA
Guerrero Jr. 824.1 -9 -9.4 -14.6 -16
Biggio 81.0 -2 -1.0 -13.4 -1

It’s a small sample size of just 10 games for Biggio, but he didn’t exactly set the world on fire at the hot corner. Given a full season, the chance to prepare and focus on playing third full-time he should certainly improve, and iron out some of the kinks.

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The biggest issue with Biggio playing third is his arm strength. Depending on where you look, most scouting services gave his arm a 50, or league average. An average arm at second doesn’t play up at third, despite moving down the defensive spectrum. Vladdy’s best attribute defensively is his strong arm. That helps bail him out when he miscues a ball.

Guerrero Jr. has shown that he has the reflexes to handle third base. He can pick those hard hit balls where you have little time to react. Biggio in his games at second has had trouble picking those hot shots.

This isn’t an isolated incident either as you can see here, here, here and here.

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These are obviously tough plays, which is why none of them were considered errors. These types of hard hit balls are more common at third and are plays that should be made. Vlad has shown he can make that play consistently.

Biggio’s strength as a defender is his range to his left. As a second basemen in 2019 he was +4 outs above average, per Baseball Savant when ranging towards first base. That can help him at third base where he has to cut in front of the shortstop to make a play. This is key for the Blue Jays as Bo Bichette hasn’t been good ranging to his right. For his career Bo has been -4 outs above average when ranging to the SS/3B hole.

In 2019 the Blue Jays accounted for this by having Bo play closer to second, and as I wrote last year, it was Vlad covering Bo on defence, not the other way around. In 2020, Bo was back playing in a more traditional shortstop position, as the Blue Jays didn’t have a consistent third basemen. Perhaps the plan is for Biggio to play third, so they can shift Bo back closer to second.

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This is a nice play showing Biggio’s range at third, but his arm makes it a closer play than it should have been. As I noted last year Guerrero Jr. isn’t that bad at ranging side to side. He was below average in 2019, -4 OOA to his right and -2 OOA to his left. With better fitness and more experience it wouldn’t be unrealistic for him to be average.

Vlad’s issues defensively were predominately going in on balls. Vlad was -10 OOA when having to go in on the ball. Plays like this.

Because the shift was on, Vlad was on the only defender on the left side of the infield. Over the course of the season he had 16 attempts where he had to come in on the ball from the shortstop position. He was -4 OOA in those 16 opportunities. A quarter of his outs below average came on plays were he was widely out of position. If you take away those -4 OOA that moves Vlad from being dead last to just among the worst defenders and perhaps that changes the narrative a little bit around his defence.

Even if Vlad is the worst defender at third, it isn’t detrimental to your season. In 2019 Vlad was eight runs below average on defence at third per FanGraphs WAR. Overall with the positional adjustment and his time at DH, he was -10.6 runs below average on defence. That equates to roughly -1.0 WAR. That was far from lowest in the league (Josh Bell was -18.2 runs below average). That win is very valuable especially with the Blue Jays expected to be right in the playoff race, but that is the absolute worst case scenario for Vlad.

It’s not like Vlad was great at first last season either. His -4 defensive runs saved was tied for the third worst among first basemen. Even if Vlad is an average defender at first, he is more valuable to the Blue Jays as a slightly below average third baseman. It would allow the team to move Biggio all around the diamond as they did last season. It opens up first base for Rowdy to build on his strong 2020 campaign. That then frees up the DH spot and allows the team rotate players through. Giving players more rest and opportunities to stay in the line-up if they are a little banged up.

Biggio may have made significant improvements in his throwing and fielding and could be a very good defender at third. But with all the work Vlad put in over the off-season he at least deserves the opportunity to compete for that spot.