Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is playing on another level right now.
A triple slash of .389/.507/.667 is Bonds-esque, his 232 wRC+ ranks fourth in all of baseball behind, Acuna Jr, Trout and Mercedes. His 1.2 WAR is tied for second and matches what Vlad did in 2019 and 2020 combined. What’s most impressive about this stretch isn’t necessarily the power and the big exit velocity, it’s his plate discipline. Vlad has 11 walks and 11 strikeouts. This is the Vlad Guerrero Jr. everyone saw in the minor leagues.
We have never seen Vlad hit this well for this length of time in the big leagues. Seriously, look at his stats by week on this FanGraphs leaderboard; three of the six best weeks of Vlad’s career have been this season. So what is Vlad doing differently this time around? Is this just another hot streak and how does this streak compare to other successful stretches for Vlad?
First, we need to establish the best stretches of Vlad’s career. Using the leaderboard above, I went through and found the five best stretches of Vlad’s young career.
|2019||May 11 – May 31||76||163|
|2019||July 19 – August 4||66||241|
|2019||August 10 – August 30||61||152|
|2020||August 16 – August 30||63||172|
|2021||April 1 – April 18||67||232|
Vlad has had some strong stretches of games before, May 2019 when he first got his feet under him as a big leaguer, August last season when the team finally started to get going in Buffalo. But we haven’t seen anything close to the level he is playing at now since the summer of 2019. Vlad was hitting well in mid-July, then Bo Bichette came up at the end of the month and Vladdy went nuclear on the league. Looking further into that stretch of games, it looks pretty similar to what he is doing now.
|Year||Dates||Launch Angle||Exit Velocity||BABIP||LD%||GB%||FB%|
|2019||May 11 – May 31||12.4||92.1||.300||26.8||30.4||42.9|
|2019||July 19 – August 4||11.9||94.1||.458||26.4||37.7||35.8|
|2019||August 10 – August 30||-0.5||91.0||.364||28.3||56.5||15.2|
|2020||August 16 – August 30||0.9||93.4||.333||29.2||52.1||18.8|
|2021||April 1 – April 18||12.9||94.0||.436||27.9||37.2||34.9|
* Stats Courtesy of FanGraphs
Guerrero’s two August hot streaks were fueled by some good fortune. He was hitting the ball on the ground and those balls were finding holes and going for hits. In that May 2019 stretch, he was getting the ball in the air more but didn’t have the same BABIP luck. Vlad has the BABIP luck in this stretch as he did in July 2019, and that is going to come down as the season goes on. What is really important to note here is the batted ball distribution. Vlad’s two best stretches are when he’s hit the ball in the air 34-35% of the time. Vlad doesn’t need to be Joey Gallo and have a 50% fly-ball rate to be successful. He just needs to not be among the league leaders in groundball rate.
As mentioned off the top one of the most impressive aspects of this stretch for Vlad has been his plate discipline. Comparing this stretch to the others, this year really stands out.
|2019||May 11 – May 31||32.5||71.7||65.1||84.2||11.3|
|2019||July 19 – August 4||32.2||62.6||77.6||87.7||7.4|
|2019||August 10 – August 30||29.2||75.0||65.0||91.3||8.7|
|2020||August 16 – August 30||23.5||81.2||65.6||85.5||9.5|
|2021||April 1 – April 18||24.1||68.3||46.2||85.5||11.8|
* Stats Courtesy of FanGraphs
Vlad is swinging and missing more, swinging less inside the zone and making less contact than ever outside the zone, all of which sound negative. Yet Vlad is walking more and striking out less. As Tom Tango pointed out on Twitter last week, pitchers are avoiding the heart of the plate and Vlad isn’t chasing outside the zone. When Vlad first came up in 2019 pitchers had a similar approach. Guerrero Jr. got himself out by being too aggressive and trying to crush every strike he saw. Now he’s matured as a hitter. He takes a strike if he can’t hit it; he’s not being overly aggressive and rolling over to the shortstop on pitches outside the zone. He’s patient, waits for mistakes and if it’s not there he happily jogs down to first.
Just look at the pitches outside the zone he has chased this season.
Guerrero Jr. has chased a few pitches down he shouldn’t have, and the slider away is still a tricky pitch for him to lay off of, as it is for most right-handed hitters. But most of these pitches are close. What really stands out is Vlad has not swung at anything above the zone this season.
The high fastball has become common place in the game today. Pitchers with more and more velocity and spin rate, live up in the zone. It’s the best location to get whiffs and strikeouts. Most hitters are seeing the majority of fastballs, particularly four-seamers up in the zone, and Vladdy is no exception.
If Guerrero Jr. isn’t going to chase the pitch up, that forces pitchers to come back down into the zone where Guerrero Jr. can do damage. That’s exactly what we have seen this season.
This is a pitch we have seen Vlad chase in the past. Tie game in the eighth, 3-1 count, you know you are getting a fastball and a chance to put the team ahead. Vlad stays within himself doesn’t chase and takes the walk.
Is what we are seeing Vlad sustainable? No, because nobody hits this well over a full season. The closest anyone has come to a 200 wRC+ in a full season in the last 10 years is Bryce Harper 197 in 2015. What we have seen from Guerrero Jr. is a patient hitter who isn’t swinging at pitcher’s pitches, he’s now willing to take walks, and, when he gets a mistake, he’s clobbering it. He’s increased his launch angle and is hitting fewer groundballs without fully selling out to hit the ball in the air. This approach is something that can be maintained over a full season and if so, expect Vlad to remain one of the very best hitters in the league.