Last week the RotoFanatic team dropped our first set of positional rankings. You can check out the first base rankings here. One of the things interesting about aggregated rankings like ours is looking at the spaces where we diverge the most. With that spirit in mind, we decided to have two of our writers duke it out and discuss why they find themselves on the high or low end for a particular player. These articles will drop on Mondays and Wednesdays with a different position as the focus each time.
In this second installment, we take a look at one of the more polarizing players in the league Vladimir Guerrero Jr. In the age of the uber-prospect, Baby Vlad was one of the most hyped guys that I personally can remember. He was painted as an elite bat that would come up and immediately dominate the league. While he has been a solid performer at the big league level, he has definitely been a bit of a disappointment for anyone who has invested in him in the last two seasons.
The immense raw power has not manifested into high home run totals and the AVG has not approached the .300 level that many believe he can reach. Even worse for fantasy owners, he was moved across the diamond, and in many leagues, he no longer carries 3B eligibility. However, projection systems still love the upside potential and fantasy owners seem to be buying in taking him as the fifth 1B off the board. Defending his high ranking of Vlad is Michael Govier, podcaster extraordinaire and I will be arguing why I am lower than the crowd.
The High Ranking For Vlad (1B3)
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will be 22 years old on March 16th. This is a dude who is still in the process of figuring out this game. He’s doing so during one of the most uncertain, bizarro, and difficult periods not just for baseball, but for all of us on planet earth. The Blue Jays also traveled around begging throughout hell’s creation for a place to play since they weren’t welcome in their home country of Canada.
He gained weight during 2020 and he recently said that “I learned after these months of the coronavirus that if you don’t work hard, you can’t be in the Major Leagues,” told Yancen Pujols of el Caribe. Now Vladdy has lost 32 pounds as he does what any immature youngster does: learns from his mistakes.
Despite the negativity surrounding Guerrero, he debuted in MLB at barely 20 years old to the tune of .272/.339/.433 with 15 homers and a 105 wRC+. Not mind-blowing but certainly not god awful trash. If he hadn’t hit .402 in the minors and didn’t share the same name of a HOFer then there wouldn’t nearly be the same uproar.
And forget about his outcomes from 2020. What does matter is how hard he hit the ball, top 7 percentile in EV and HHR. Nay-sayers will tell you that he hit too many of those balls into the ground. That can be corrected and when that happens in 2021, you’ll be glad you drafted Vlad.
The Low Ranking For Vlad (1B10)
My low ranking for Vlad Jr. is tied to entirely what he has done so far at the big league level. The power potential that he showed in the minors has been unable to come to fruition due to an extreme ground ball profile. So far in his career, Vlad has hit a groundball on over 50% of his balls in play. No matter how elite the HR/FB% can be, hitting the ball on the ground that much will kill the power upside. In 2020, the power started to show up a bit more but even if we prorate his numbers to 600 PAs, he would have only hit 22 homers.
When building a roster I look for specific skills from each position. For me, 1B is a premium power position. I am looking for around 30 homers from whatever player I take to fill the position. Until I see that kind of output from Vlad, I will continue to rank him behind the mashers at the position. However, Vlad does provide around a .270 AVG, something several of the other sluggers ahead of him do not provide. However, unlike a guy like DJ LeMahieu, who we can look to for an average over .300, Vlad is not enough of a boost in that category for my liking to overcome the low HR output.
Additionally, he is likely a zero in stolen bases, unlike other guys like Anthony Rizzo who should be able to chip in around 5-10 SBs. While these are not huge differences, in projections, those couple of extra steals over the course of a long season can help boost you up the final standings. Vlad had immense potential but until he actually realizes some of that potential, I won’t be drafting him this season.
The Data Monster’s Take
Unlike Sean Murphy, the prospect side of the Data Monster does not have enough of a 2019 sample on Vlad to make meaningful projections. However, we do have a rather large sample to work from in both 2019 and 2020 for the actualized results.
One of the things when looking over Vlad’s Fangraphs page that you will notice is he does not strike out very often. However, one thing I’ve noticed is that despite the great K rates, the Swinging Strike numbers are a bit higher than we would like.
As you can see, his Whiff numbers across the board were average to below average and even his 2019 numbers were not exactly exemplary. This likely means that overall Vlad does an exceptional job with 2-strikes at avoiding Whiffs when they are most dangerous. This difference in what we expect is also driven by Vlad’s extremely high in-zone swing rates. In 2020, he had an 88th percentile in-zone swing rate and a 90th percentile IZ according to the Data Monster. Being aggressive in-zone likely leads to fewer called strikes which helps him to overperform his Whiff rate in terms of Ks.
The Data Monster agrees with my take on Vlad’s current offensive ability and sees him as around league average in In_wOBA. Essentially, Vlad does not seem to be generating meaningfully better results on BABIP than the locations of the pitches he saw would suggest. This is likely tied to his extreme ground ball nature limiting his current production. If he can make those changes and he can become a more balanced hitter, this will likely rise due to his Hard Hit Rates.
However, where Vlad does excel is in his Plate Discipline. His SAE numbers have been around the 90th percentile in each of his first two seasons suggesting that he does do a great job in pitch selection. This is one of my personal favorite hitter metrics we have and I like to use this as a tiebreaker for hitters. There is reason to be optimistic looking at the Data Monster numbers and Vlad is still only 21 years old, suggesting that best is yet to come from the young Blue Jay. The differentiating factor from slightly above average to elite will be if he can put the ball in the air a little more often and take advantage of his raw power.