Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is struggling, through a little over 40 plate appearances. This is definitely a sample size that is too small to make any sort of conclusion, but this is still a little scary. I think what makes it so troubling is that he was expected to instantly be one of the best players in baseball when he finally made it to the major league level. It may also be because he absolutely hit the cover off the ball at the minor league level. The last time there was a player hyped up this much in baseball occurred in 2012 when Bryce Harper made his major league debut. You can even argue that Harper was even more “hyped up” especially since he made the cover of sports illustrated at the age of sixteen. His stardom started even earlier than that as at the age of thirteen he was reported to be on the national baseball radar according to the Las Vegas Sun.
Vlad Jr. has had his fair share of contributing factors that have led to his instant stardom as well. First off, having a father who is in the baseball hall of fame will certainly get peoples attention. He’s has made a name for himself too though by playing MVP level baseball in the minor league as a teenager. It’s clear though that Vlad Jr. is struggling and I can’t seem to find any sort of algorithm that convinces me that his future performance will be much different. There is no need to worry though, you can’t make any sort of conclusion through 40 plate appearances, right?
So the biggest reason for concern right now is that there has been a huge drop off in performance compared to what was expected. Over his career, as he jumps up to a new level he hasn’t shown any sort of difficulty adjusting. Well if he did, his final season stats at that level don’t show it. Take a look to see for yourself, all he has done is hit like a future MVP.
Maybe that’s just it. Maybe it’s been the constant talk of how he is deemed for success that has led to his slow start. He’s uncomfortable with the standards set before him and is struggling to cope with it. Honestly, that seems to be the most likely conclusion. Not everyone can be like Bryce Harper and win rookie of the year and be an all-star all before the age of twenty-one.
Yet, a player who puts up those kinds of numbers in the minor leagues doesn’t just fall off once he reaches the major league level. Obviously, he won’t produce those MVP numbers right away, but he definitely wasn’t supposed to drop off as much as we are seeing.
There is more cause for concern in addition to the numbers seen above in the chart from FanGraphs. Vlad Jr.’s statcast numbers are disappointing as well. Baseball Savant doesn’t rank his statcast numbers in comparison to the league and I am assuming that’s because of his shortage of plate appearances. Which serves as another example of proof that maybe we shouldn’t be worried about Vlad just yet. However, the statcast numbers that he is posting are not good and I would like to show you just how bad they are.
For starters, his average exit velocity is only 89 mph. No surprise there as you would expect it to be a below average number with his unimpressive performance so far. Here is where it gets scary, his average launch angle is -6 degrees. Last season among hitters with at least two hundred plate appearances, the lowest average launch angle was -1 degree. This was held by Eric Hosmer. If I haven’t scared you yet, get ready. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is chasing 27.4% of pitches outside of the strike zone. To make it even worse, only 40% of the pitches he is facing are strikes. So not only are pitches already trying to avoid him but he is chasing so many pitches outside of the strike zone.
Now, if I’ve scared you to the point where you are ready to bail on Vlad Jr. just wait. There is one bit of hope that may provide a bright spot for you. He is hitting pitches that are inside of the strike zone. His in-zone swing and miss% is only 8.1%. So, when he swings at pitches inside of the strike zone, he makes contact a lot. This is a very good sign.
After looking at all of those numbers, it may just be that the nerves are contributing to his lack of plate discipline. Since he is still hitting the baseball when it’s thrown in the strike zone, I don’t think that there can be to much cause for concern. Hopefully, he will soon adjust and find a way to not swing at pitches outside of the strike zone. However, these numbers are still concerning but I wouldn’t suggest jumping to any soon conclusions with the lack of plate appearances. If this is still the case in about a month or two then I will defiantly be concerned but for now, let’s let the kid play.