Deep Dive: What’s wrong with Vladimir Guerrero Jr.?

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Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has suffered a May power outage and the questions are mounting about the Blue Jays slugger.

With one out in the top of the first back on May 5 in Cleveland, Vladimir Guerrero drove an Aaron Civale sinker 392 feet over the left-field fence for a two-run homer and an early lead in a game the Guardians would eventually rally to win.

It was Guerrero’s seventh home run of the young season and his last extra-base hit of the season to date.

At the conclusion of that game, Guerrero was slashing .290/.364/.559 with 7 home runs and 19 RBI through the Blue Jays’ first 27 games.  No, he wasn’t on the pace of the 2021 Guerrero Jr. who hit .311 with 48 home runs and 111 RBI, but he was still potent and dangerous at the plate.

Since then? Guerrero is 11-for-56 (.196) with 2 RBI and no extra-base hits. And his slash line has nose-dived to .267/.308/.507.

Guerrero’s advanced metrics are still very good: Average Exit Velocity and HardHit% in the 96th percentile, xwOBA 90th percentile, xBA in 88th percentile and xSLG in the 86th percentile.

Digging into the specific pitches, it may be just a case of setting the bar too high in 2021 and regressing to the mean in 2022.

Guerrero mashed fastballs for a .374 average and  .678 slugging mark, hitting 26 home runs on the pitch in 329 at-bats, a long ball for every 12.7 at-bats in 2021.  By anyone’s measure, that number was going to be difficult to match or even approach on a consistent, year to year basis.

In 2022 he’s seeing the pitch about 1.8% less, and not connecting in the same stratosphere, averaging .267 and slugging .507 on the pitch, with a home run coming every 15 at-bats to date.

Perhaps more alarming is that Guerrero Jr. totaled a 32 run value total and 4.1/100 run value on the fastball last year and through May 23 of 2022 that number sits at 0.  You read that right, 0.

Guerrero is also struggling against the sinker, hitting .179 on the pitch he bashed at a .370 clip last season.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. is struggling with a particular location where he crushed the ball in 2021

In another piece of the puzzle, Guerrero is also not hitting pitches up in the zone like he was in 2021.

In the 2021 season, 12 percent of the pitches Guerrero saw were up in zone: 4 percent up and out, 4 percent middle up and 4 percent up and in. Guerrero crushed these balls for 15 home runs and slugging percentages of .676, 1.131 and 1.313 respectively.

In those same spots in 2022, Guerrero is seeing 3 percent, 4 percent and 5 percent of pitches, respectively, has one home run (middle up) while slugging .000, .800 and .444 this season.

From the data, it appears that the fastballs up that Guerrero was smashing last season aren’t getting hit in the same fashion this season.

All hope shouldn’t be lost. As his advanced numbers show, Guerrero is still one of the best in the Major Leagues and we shouldn’t forget that from last June forward Guerrero hit 32 home runs with 69 RBI. There’s plenty of season left.

His 2021 season may not be repeatable, but at the end of the year, we could look back and see this three-week malaise as a blip on the radar on Guerrero’s ride to the Hall of Fame.

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