Vladimir Guerrero Jr. produces his best MLB performance to date
TORONTO — As genres of 2019 Blue Jays games go, the “Blue Jays don’t do much of anything, but Vladdy is awesome” was always expected to be a popular one. Because of the rookie’s struggles, it took 12 games to see the first example, but in a 7-2 loss to the White Sox on Saturday he truly shined.
To be fair, it was more of a subtly great day for Guerrero Jr., as opposed to the loud greatness that’s been promised. That will wait for another time, but the Blue Jays have to be happy with what they saw in his 2-for-2 afternoon.
It started with an outstanding play in the top of the first inning, as he robbed Jose Abreu of a single. Abreu runs like he’s got a fully loaded refrigerator on his back, but that doesn’t take much away from this gem:
Guerrero Jr. brought that momentum to the plate in the bottom of the frame when he scorched a liner so hard it seemed to phase through the leather of Tim Anderson’s glove.
That single came in at 118.9 m.p.h., the second hardest-hit ball of the entire 2019 season, and the hardest off a Blue Jay bat in the admittedly-short Statcast era. Josh Donaldson arrived in Toronto the year Statcast came to prominence, and he never hit a ball with that raw velocity.
Immediately afterwards he earned his first career caught stealing - but that came on a busted hit-and-run foiled by Justin Smoak’s inability to make contact with a changeup away.
From there it wasn’t a laser show, but a show of maturity. It’s been well-documented that Guerrero Jr. has been getting virtually nothing to hit in his first go around the majors, and he’s seemed to press at times as a result. On Saturday there was none of that.
“I’ve been feeling comfortable at the plate,” he said through an interpreter. “I’ve been watching a lot of video and I’m making adjustments.”
In the third inning, Vladdy dug himself on 0-2, but meticulously worked his way out of it as Ivan Nova threw him hard stuff down-and-away.
As the Blue Jays offence continued to hibernate peacefully he didn’t return to the plate until the sixth inning. This time Nova wanted no part of him whatsoever, despite the fact there was no one on base.
Guerrero Jr. didn’t force anything and locked in the first multi-walk game of his career - a feat he seems likely to repeat on the regular.
In his final at-bat, Guerrero Jr. remained patient, working a full count, and flicking a soft liner to right. It was the polar opposite of his previous hit, this time travelling at a leisurely 69.7 mph. The ball had an Expected Batting Average of .900 though, because it was placed in precisely the right spot between the second baseman and right fielder.
Of course, Vladdy’s day was not a perfect one, containing what one could call a “teachable moment.” After his second walk, he made an overt base running blunder and found himself in a pickle from which there was no escape.
If you’re in the business of being forgiving you might call that an “aggressive mistake” or say he was “trying to make something happen”. Realistically, it’s just a bad play. The difference between second and third base just isn’t worth that risk and Vladdy’s not a burner - something he’s almost certainly aware of. Even a 20-year-old like Guerrero Jr. ought to be aware of whether the ball escapes the infield to avoid throwing away an out like that.
“Basically I saw the base and it was empty,” he said of the play. “Things happened so fast I thought it was empty, but obviously it wasn’t.”
“That’s going to happen when you have young kids,” Montoyo added. “They’re going to make mistakes and that’s our job to tell them ‘alright that wasn’t a good play, learn from it.’”
Although the gaffe put a bit of a damper on the day, top to bottom it was the best we’ve seen. With Vladdy stumbling out of the gate the difference between “the best we’ve seen” and “breathtaking brilliance” is rather significant, but the Blue Jays will happily take the former.
The latter is coming one of these days.
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