Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s two home runs are just the latest in a breakout season

Not that anyone asked Vladimir Guerrero Jr..s brute force anytime lately, but the first of his two home runs on Monday was booming evidence of his strength.

Ryan Yarbrough threw a change in the first incline, 78 mph, onto the outer third of the plate. Guerrero, knees slightly bent, hands clenched on the handle of the racket behind his right ear, discharged. When the ball focused on the hitting zone a microsecond before contact, Guerrero’s forefoot was slightly off the ground, his hands had sunk a few inches, and his racket was perpendicular to the ground just behind his helmet, his hips bumping forward just short of it like Shakira.

A microsecond after contact, Guerrero’s forefoot landed and rolled a little on its outer edge due to the torque of its swing. His belt buckle was aimed straight at Yarbrough, who was about to finish his delivery. Guerrero’s hands reached away from his chest like an Olympic hammer thrower, but his head stayed in position, his eyes already following the soaring flight of the ball.

Guerrero’s home run, with an exit speed of 117.4 mph, covered an estimated 461 feet and sailed over the great midfielder’s eye fence at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida. There have been four home races at least 460 feet apart this season – and Vlad Jr. has two of them. The final 460-foot home run hit against a slower pitch was a home run Juan Soto hit a 77 mile curveball from Steven Matz last season.

Guerrero’s second home run was a game-winning two-run bomb in the eighth, a high shot to the left in the center. The Rays would eventually beat the Blue Jays – that’s 11 in a row for them in case you weren’t careful – thanks to an eleventh inning of seven runs, but Guerrero’s two long balls are just the final exclamation point of his breakout season. His 15 home runs bind him to Ronald acuna jr. lead for the major league. His share of 0.661 strokes is only behind the outfielders of the Reds Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos. Just his .443 OBP trails Mike Trout and Max Muncy and his 1,104 OPS tops them all. Guerrero has 30 walks and only 29 strikes, making him one of only six qualified fighters to have more walks than strikes in this Age of K.

Not every elite hitter comes out of the womb as a consummate superstar, not even a hyped phenomenon like Guerrero Jr., who, like Mon Verstappen, raced through the minors in Monaco and reached the majors a few months after his 20th birthday. We weren’t just spoiled in baseball, of course, but in other sports as well. Teenagers now Enter the NBA and are immediate stars. The NFL then designs quarterbacks two or three seasons Rather than studying for an additional season or two as a backup, teams expect the young quarterback to produce immediately. In baseball we were blessed with the likes of Acuna, Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr..

Guerrero joined their ranks in 2021, with the skills we saw as little leaguer – power, contact, record discipline – in full force, a reminder that sometimes it takes a little before everything clicks. Guerrero has made some obvious improvements, particularly increasing his starting angle which means fewer grounders and more fly balls, although he’s still below major league average in this area.

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His improvement reminds me of another son of a great league who learned to toss the ball in the air – Ken Griffey Jr. In fact, Guerrero was arguably the most hyped prospect since Griffey, with enormous expectations placed on his talent , its low league numbers and its performance are based on pedigree. Their swings aren’t exactly alike – Griffey struck left, of course, and stood erect, letting that one hand flourish – but the progression of their growth in power goes well together.

Griffey joined the majors in 1989 at the age of 19 but didn’t have his big homerun breakout until he was 23 in 1993. In his first four seasons, he hit a home run every 24.9 bats and then hit a bat every 12.9 in ’93. Guerrero hit all 28.5 bats in his first two seasons and is all 11.2 bats in 2021. With Griffey, we can see a clear line up started in 1993 when he started hitting more flyballs and fewer groundballs. Startwinkel existed long before 2015, my friends.

Guerrero’s hot start has one caveat. Guerrero – and his Blue Jays teammates – have done well while playing at their spring training home. He hit .410 / .521 / .897 with 11 home runs in 78 bats at TD Ballpark and .267 / .371 / .456 on the street. As a team, the Blue Jays hit .276 / .348 / .493 in TD Ballpark and .230 / .289 / .371 on the street. Monday’s game was the last in Dunedin, however, as they return to Buffalo for their next homestand starting June 1st. Currently, the Jays are slated to play their second game in Buffalo during the All-Star break. to determine half at home.

I think Guerrero will be fine. Buffalo played as a good batsman park last year and Guerrero’s particular ability to hit contact and fast exit speeds should translate well to any locale. He might lose a few home runs, but that 300-plus average should easily stay in the game. Plus, that starting angle can go up further, leading to more of those towering home runs like we saw them on Monday.

How Guerrero fares in his new environment will also feed into the MVP race, as his candidacy is all about his bat. Guerrero started the day leading the majors in FanGraphs WAR among positional players. With Trout on the list of injured before an extended stint, the AL race feels open, even if the early discussion focuses on Guerrero and Ohtani.

The problem there is that the Blue Jays are now 23-23 after their sixth straight defeat and are fourth at the AL East behind the fiery Rays, Red Sox and grazing Yankees. Monday’s loss was the streak’s third bullpen implosion against the Rays – the pen allowed four runs in the 12th inning on Friday, blew a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning on Sunday, and then allowed nine runs in additional frames on Monday . The Blue Jays, who are in the playoff race, could be included in the vote, although the same goes for Ohtani.

All of this is months later. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy a hitter who has turned into a superstar.

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