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What to make of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s recent changes in plate approach


When Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was on his way to the big leagues, his bat held a specific, lofty promise.

Before he even turned 20, he was described as a prospect with the power of his Hall of Fame father with a command of the strike zone that Vladimir Guerrero Sr. never had – or that he never had. didn’t need.

In 2021, he’s precisely the hitter he was, but so far in 2022, his approach is more reminiscent of his father’s than he’s shown so far in his MLB career. Guerrero Jr.’s .287/.325/.711 cutline is nothing short of outstanding, but how he hits those numbers is significantly different from what we saw last year.

Vladdy hit a surprising clip in the first 10 games of the season (27.5%) while drawing a single involuntary walk. This resulted in a 0.18 K/BB, which ranks 150th among 185 qualified hitters. Last year, only seven hitters topped his 0.78 K/BB.

Although we are dealing with a small sample, the difference is profound and stems from an easily identifiable cause. Guerrero Jr. is adjusting to the fact that no one wants to strike him.

Only 29% of pitches the slugger has seen in 2022 have been the strike zone. Not only the lowest number in the majors, of the 11,551 times a batter has had at least 40 plate appearances since 2002 (when FanGraphs started tracking the zone rate), none of them have saw a lower percentage of throws in the zone. A small sample warning applies again, but seeing locations in the zone less than a third of the time is basically unheard of.

Based on what we know of Guerrero Jr., the obvious guess would be that he would use his strong strike zone judgment to convert that barrage of potential balls into walks. Instead, he increased his aggression.

Due to seeing less land in the area than ever before…

… Guerrero Jr. found an unprecedented level of terrain aggressiveness outside of this one:

What to make of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s recent changes in plate approach

His O-Swing rate of 45.2% ranks 8th among 185 qualified hitters, ahead of all his teammates, including Bo Bichette, who recorded 11 strikeouts and no walks.

For the vast majority of hitters, this level of pitch chasing (and the resulting K/BB) would be indicative of a meltdown. For Guerrero Jr., that was not the case. That’s largely because — like Guerrero Sr. — he’s able to drive pitches that other hitters can’t hit.

In his three home runs against the New York Yankees on April 13, for example, he smashed a 98 mph fastball off the plate…

What to make of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s recent changes in plate approach

…and with a little less fanfare demolished a Jonathan Loiasiga sinker that broke his hands:

What to make of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s recent changes in plate approach

There’s a difference between being able to do something and being able to do it consistently, though – and Guerrero Jr.’s scent chart reveals that with these home runs there were uncompetitive hits on pitches away from the plate:

What to make of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s recent changes in plate approach

Guerrero Jr. may be one of them, but over the course of his career the difference between his production in and out of the strike zone is stark, as it is with any hitter. .

What to make of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s recent changes in plate approach

So far this season, Guerrero Jr. has thrived showing his ability to hit pitchers’ throws and producing on the rare occasions he has thrown strikes. Longer term, a different adjustment may be needed if he is to replicate his outstanding 2021 breakout season.

Vladdy has become one of baseball’s most feared hitters. This title comes with special treatment from opposing pitchers. Right now, they’re giving him very little to hit, and he’s giving them very little incentive to change that plan of attack.

This caused a situation where Guerrero Jr. is swimming upstream, chasing the shots instead of letting them come to him. He’s one of the few punchers on the planet talented enough to make it work – even for a short time – but his durability is an open question.

With a little more selectivity, the 23-year-old could make his life a whole lot easier, even if that means taking more walks and passing the baton to hitters behind him in the lineup. Guerrero Jr. was absolutely crushed with an approach that is probably too adjusted to how he was thrown. Once he finds his footing, it’s hard to put a cap on what he could produce.


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