What's up with Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.?

Is it too early to worry about Major League Baseball's top prospect?

Kyle Powell
May 11, 2019 - 4:46 pm

Photo: John E. Sokolowski - USA TODAY Sports

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Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. must've felt me typing this article up this afternoon.

As I sat here gathering ideas, Major League Baseball's top prospect dented a baseball in his first at-bat against the Chicago White Sox. 118.9 miles-per-hour off the bat; second-hardest hit only to Giancarlo Stanton of the New York Yankees this season (120.6 miles-per-hour).

Still, I think it's at least worth diving into the numbers a little bit from the first 45-or so at-bats of the youngster's career with the Toronto Blue Jays. It's easy to see why some fans could be worried about a possible demotion back to Triple-A Buffalo, but there are some signs of light at the end of the tunnel.

The expectations that fell onto Guerrero, Jr.'s shoulders were like nothing we have seen in MLB since maybe, Bryce Harper in 2012? Stephen Strasburg's 2010 debut wherein he struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates in seven innings? I can't even remember Mike Trout debuting under these types of circumstances. None of those players were the sons of Hall of Fame talent like Guerrero, Jr. is. Factor in the idea that he not only has the eyes of the entire league on all of his plate appearances, but also the watchful gazes of the entire baseball fandom of Canada and it really puts some perspective into why this 20-year-old phenom might not be getting off to the best start.

For the better part of the last two years, Guerrero, Jr. has been all the rage. When is he coming? What records will be shattered upon arrival? Will he thrive or crack under the pressure of his father's legacy? This rough start to his career may have naysayers looking like the smart ones, but there's some clarity and perspective to be had.

Guerrero, Jr. is, indeed, a victim of some bad luck; we'll get into that in a moment. He's also still searching for his first big league home run, and it is definitely showing in his approach. Remember, though, all that pressure the kid has on him less than a month into his career. That pressure is on pitchers as well. No one wants to be the answer to an eventual trivia question years down the road. They know the prowess and talent Guerrero, Jr. possesses, and given the fanfare around his ability the opposition is going to do everything in their power to make him earn everything he gets. He's already being pitched like he is a 10-year veteran; seeing nearly as many sliders as he is fastballs. Sure, once a mistake is made the proverbial floodgates may open, but for now we lie in wait.

Per FanGraphs, Guerrero, Jr.'s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is sitting at a measly .226. For perspective, the Major League average as of the start of May 11, 2019 is just north of .290. What that tells me is that Guerrero, Jr. is due for a good old regression to the mean in due time. He is too good a talent to be held this cold for much longer. Those of us who had the pleasure of seeing him in Buffalo last season know that to be the case, especially those of us who were lucky enough to be at any of the four consecutive games in August where he absolutely unloaded on baseballs for four home runs in four days.

Perspective time. Here's why I think we'll see the Guerrero, Jr. we expected to see by season's end, and maybe even by the middle of the Toronto summer. Here are some statistics of fellow top prospects through their first 40-to-45 plate appearances, and their eventual end-of-year statistics from that same rookie campaign:

  • Mark Teixeira, Texas Rangers (2003)
    • .097 BABIP, .125 AVG [44 PA]
    • END OF SEASON: .288 BABIP, .259 AVG, 26 HR, 84 RBI (fifth in 2003 American League Rookie of the Year voting)
  • Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays (2008)
    • .259 BABIP, .243 AVG [43 PA]
    • END OF SEASON: .309 BABIP, .272 AVG, 27 HR, 85 RBI (2008 American League Rookie of the Year)
  • Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals (2012)
    • .290 BABIP, .265 AVG [42 PA]
    • END OF SEASON: .310 BABIP, .270 AVG, 22 HR, 59 RBI (2012 National League Rookie of the Year)
  • Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Toronto Blue Jays (2019)
    • .231 BABIP, .162 AVG [41 PA]
    • END OF SEASON: ???

In the time it took me to put together the rest of this article, Guerrero, Jr. added to one of his strongest days at the plate thus far in the MLB. Since that 118.9 mile-per-hour rocket in his first at-bat, he's drawn two walks against White Sox pitching. That's a sign of a hitter being a moment or two away from a potential explosion. The batting eye looks to be showcasing itself more and more each day, like it did throughout his Minor League career.

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