The common narrative with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. a few weeks ago was that while he’d gotten off to a slowish start, nothing could stop him from mashing down the stretch.
Vladdy had gotten his mojo at the Home Run Derby, his new co-star Bo Bichette was taking some weight off his shoulders, and he just had a greater comfort level with the major leagues.
None of the logic that went into that theory was wrong necessarily, but despite a red-hot August, Guerrero Jr. is not finishing the season strong. In 11 September games he’s hit just .167/.217/.238. Last week he was even worse, hitting .136/.130/.136.
It’s unclear if this is a simple slump for Vladdy, or if he’s hitting some kind of rookie wall, but the results aren’t pretty. Here’s a closer look at a week where everything went wrong for the 20-year-old:
The line: 3-for-23 with 0 doubles, triples, home runs, or walks and 5 strikeouts.
Best at-bat: Single vs. Ryan Weber in the third inning on Wednesday.
The pool of candidates for this title was laughably thin this week. Not only did Guerrero Jr. fail to produce, he gave away at-bats left and right. There was very little to like about his approach, which was represented well by his five strikeouts and no walks.
This single gets the nod simply because it was a sturdy 101 mph off the bat. That’s literally it. Guerrero Jr. identified a good pitch to hit and he hit it hard. It looked like this:
In an ideal world you’d like to see Vladdy elevate this ball, but it’s a solid knock. In 22 other trips to the plate he didn’t manage anything substantially more impressive.
Worst at-bat: Strikeout vs. Masahiro Tanaka in the third inning on Friday.
Three-pitch strikeouts tend to be a bad sign, but this one is worse than most. First, Guerrero Jr. can’t square up a cookie of a fastball right down the pipe, which makes it 0-1. Then he chases the exact same pitch out of the zone twice in a row, with his final swing being particularly ugly.
How they pitched him:
Early in the season when Guerrero Jr. saw a fastball-heavy diet it tended to align with a big week, but lately he’s been unable to convert the hard stuff into production. In September, the 20-year-old’s exit velocity on fastballs has fallen off a cliff, admittedly in a small sample:
It seems that the league is wising up to the rookie’s struggles with fastballs up-and-in and crowding him more and more as the season goes on. It’s become abundantly clear where Guerrero Jr. doesn’t like the ball:
Now breaking balls away aren’t the only way to neutralize Vladdy. Pitchers have options at the moment, and the young slugger has an adjustment to make.
For what it’s worth, Guerrero Jr. is still mashing off-speed stuff, slugging .580 off change-ups and the like. As long as he continues that trend he’ll prevent pitchers from exploiting him on three fronts - and it should help him against southpaws.
Defence and baserunning: It seems like a week doesn’t go by when there isn’t something negative to say about Guerrero Jr.’s defence and last week was no exception. His costliest blunder came in a disastrous five-run inning on Friday when he tried to bail Anthony Kay out with a double play, but was far too ambitious for his own good and failed to record an out.
However, the very next day he played a similar opportunity perfectly, identifying a play at home and starting a rundown.
That would be a great developmental story, but later in the game Vladdy made a rough error playing up the middle in the shift. It was error number 17 in just 90 games in the field. If he’s going to be at third for the long haul, Guerrero Jr. needs to be more reliable, because it seems unlikely he can improve his lateral movement by a significant margin and turn range into a strength.
Credit where credit’s due, though, he did produce a nice highlight on Friday, robbing a hit from Brett Gardner by diving for a ball he had very little time to react to:
More Blue Jays coverage from Yahoo Sports Canada: