Photo credit:Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Health ‘got in my way last year,’ says Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. regarding 2023 struggles
By Thomas Hall25 days ago
When healthy, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a difference-maker for the Toronto Blue Jays, placing him among baseball’s most electrifying hitters. But, for one reason or another, he hasn’t replicated his superstar production over the last two seasons after finishing as the runner-up to Shohei Ohtani for the 2021 American League MVP.
The 2023 campaign was incredibly disappointing for the 24-year-old first baseman, who posted the lowest slugging percentage (.444) and isolated power (.179) since his rookie season in ’19. On top of that, he registered a less-than-impressive 118 wRC+, at least for his standards – a far cry from his 166 in ’21 and even the 133 he earned two seasons ago.
Countless individuals – both throughout Toronto’s organization and the club’s fan base – invested hours upon hours into diagnosing the potential causes behind Guerrero’s offensive woes, hoping to discover the main culprit.
Might it have involved a mechanical issue with his swing path or something tied to his plate discipline and pitch selection, or perhaps a mixture of both?
Or maybe it wasn’t any of those things. Maybe one of the factors that held Vladdy back from reaching his ceiling was injuries.
“One of the things that mostly got in my way last year was health,” Guerrero told ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez after being named the 2024 cover athlete for the video game “MLB The Show.” “But I’ve learned a lot about that — about how to take care of my body a lot more.”
An injury to Guerrero’s left wrist caused him to miss a bit of time in May, and it remained a nagging issue for some time, even after his return.
That coincided with his dip at the plate, as the right-handed slugger slashed .315/.392/.523 with a 154 wRC+ and a 13.5 per cent strikeout rate over his first 38 games. But his next 50 heading into the All-Star break weren’t close to as dominant, which included a .242/.305/.381 slash line, a 90 wRC+ and an elevated 17.4 per cent strikeout rate.
Guerrero also said he experienced right knee soreness shortly after winning his first career Home Run Derby in July – an ailment he tried to grind through before undergoing an MRI last September, which didn’t reveal any structural damage.
The three-time All-Star’s offensive results received another blow in the second half until recovering over the final few weeks of September, a stretch of 14-for-51 (.275 AVG) that included five bombs and 11 RBIs across his final 14 regular-season games.
“But those are things that are part of the sport,” Guerrero said. “I don’t blame that. I’m not saying that because I had some discomfort, I didn’t do my job. But that is one of the things that we’ve focused on this off-season in trying to improve each of the things that bothered me last year.”
Availability is the best ability, as most executives will tell you – and Guerrero takes immense pride in being in the lineup as often as possible. Despite not being at his best in 2023, he posted almost every day for the Blue Jays, appearing in 156 out of 162 contests.
The Montreal, Que., native has only missed nine games since 2020, with only former teammate Marcus Semien, Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson ahead of him in games played in that span.
In hopes of continuing that stellar stretch, Guerrero’s off-season training program has targeted “muscles that you don’t even think about” to better his odds of avoiding similar ailments next season. He also added that he feels 100 per cent recovered and is confident about returning to the franchise-altering player he was previously.
“I’ve said this since last year — that this is my season, and that this is when people are going to know about me,” Guerrero said. “It’s going to be either ‘Vlad Jr. is back’ or ‘Vlad Jr. stayed behind.’ But I’m focused on what I have to do and, with God’s grace, 100% confident in myself that this year is going to be great.”
But first, there’s the matter of Guerrero’s unresolved arbitration case, which, barring a last-minute agreement – like the one Toronto signed with Bo Bichette last winter – appears headed to a third-party hearing next month.
Both sides exchanged salary figures earlier this month, with the Blue Jays offering $18.05 million while Guerrero filed for $19.9 million. Win or lose, he is positioned to receive the largest amount ever awarded to a player through an arbitration hearing, surpassing Teoscar Hernández’s $14 million from last winter.
With just two guaranteed years remaining before Guerrero and Bichette enter free agency, the franchise’s everyday first baseman will aim to prove he’s still worthy of commanding a monumental contract – an outcome that’ll likely determine the club’s fate in 2024.
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