How To Handle Vladimir Guerrero Jr. In Dynasty Leagues (Fantasy Baseball)
Loyal listeners of last summer’s breakout sports media podcast “Leading Off” know that I love baseball prospects. It’s unlikely that any up-and-coming big leaguer ever reaches my own personal fever pitch of Bryce Harper’s minor league career, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr. came awfully close.
By the spring of 2019, “Vladito” stock was at an all-time high as one of fantasy baseball’s most untouchable assets in dynasty leagues. Two years later, however, we’re still waiting for the breakout that was promised. This begs the question – how should fantasy baseball managers handle Guerrero moving forward?
How It Started
There was a point late in the 2018 season where it looked like Guerrero could get the call to Toronto. In 95 games across four minor league levels (mostly between Double-A and Triple-A), a 19-year-old Vlad hit .381/.437/.636 to go along with 20 homers and 78 RBIs. Most impressively, perhaps, was Guerrero’s combination of patience and bat-on-ball skills that resulted in 37 walks while striking out just 38 times.
Many scouts viewed him as the best offensive prospect in recent memory, as he at times displayed both an 80-grade hit tool and 80-grade power. Entering 2019 the projection system Steamer, which is known to be rather conservative, projected him to be the 13th-best hitter in baseball by wOBA (.374). Keep in mind that the wonder kid had yet to appear in the big leagues. Instead, Guerrero began the season in Triple-A Buffalo, where he hit three homers with four walks and two strikeouts in nine games. By then, the service time consideration had passed, which meant it was time for his major league debut.
I think Vlad Jr is ready for the majors pic.twitter.com/Xqnk07UYY5
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) April 18, 2019
How It’s Going
Through his first 183 big league games, Guerrero Jr. is slashing .269/.336/.472, which is good for a 109 OPS+. His 162-game average comes out to 21 homers and 90 RBIs. This is overall solid production, but it’s not “legendary prospect” production. In a league where Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Ronald Acuña Jr. have all performed as superstars from day one, it’s all the more frustrating/curious as to what has held Vlad back. Let’s take a look at his Baseball Savant page.
A quick peep shows that quality of contact isn’t the problem. In Guerrero’s “disappointing” 2020 campaign, he ranked in the 93rd percentile for both hard-hit rate and average exit velocity. This is where the difference between “quality of contact” and “batted ball distribution” comes into play. Basically, not all well-hit balls are created equal, and it’s not difficult to figure out what has plagued Toronto’s youngster.
|Season||Ground Ball Rate||Line Drive Rate||Fly Ball rate||Pop-Up Rate|
Vlad’s 54.6% ground-ball rate was the 10th-highest in MLB this summer. Hitting the ball hard, however, isn’t all that beneficial if it’s hit on the ground directly at a fielder. Now, before we prescribe a quick fix of simply hitting fewer grounders, it’s important to note that it’s possible to succeed with a GB rate hovering around 50%. Both Soto and Christian Yelich have eclipsed that threshold in recent campaigns, and they’re both superstars.
The difference is that when they hit line drives and fly balls, they’re doing damage. Hitting grounders in more than half of your plate appearances simply lowers your margin for error. If you’re going to hit that many ground balls, then you better take advantage of the times when you don’t.
I don’t believe that Guerrero needs to undergo a complete overhaul when it comes to his swing. He’s certainly talented enough to make some minor adjustments. Maybe he just needs to make more of a commitment to his craft this winter.
We’ll close by talking through Vlad Jr.’s outlook going forward. A popular narrative this past offseason was in regards to whether or not Guerrero would show up to spring training in shape. In a refreshingly candid interview Guerrero gave after the 2020 postseason, the hitting prodigy confirmed that he was ready to go when position players reported in February. However, he also admits that he didn’t take care of himself during the COVID-19 shutdown and showed up to summer camp out of shape.
“I did not get to the second training well, and I told myself that this cannot happen again. I was overweight, I said that it couldn’t happen again, and I got to work at once,” Guerrero told Yancen Pujols of El Caribe.
Here's a clip of the Vladimir Guerrero Jr interview
Very worth watching. Says he was in shape for original spring training, but not for summer camp.
Still a 21-year-old kid learning life lessons. Already down 12 pounds since the season ended. pic.twitter.com/gmmZSeEjYK
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) November 9, 2020
The good news is Guerrero appears to have learned his lesson, as he has already lost 12 pounds since the season ended. He said that his ideal playing weight is 240-245 pounds, but he showed up to summer camp in July at 280. For strictly data-driven fantasy managers, the “getting in shape” narrative might not be enough to persuade you on its own, but it’s certainly a piece of the puzzle. Guerrero doesn’t turn 22 until next March. He’s still learning life lessons.
Youth, combined with his above-average production so far makes Vladito a firm hold in dynasty leagues. He’s a “buy” candidate if there’s a frustrated manager out there, but we certainly shouldn’t be looking to “sell” him. Guerrero will remain inside the top 12 when my dynasty rankings come out later this offseason.
Whether you’re new to fantasy baseball or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Baseball 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with our Sabermetrics Glossary or head to more advanced strategy – like How to Make Custom Fantasy Baseball Rankings with Microsoft Excel – to learn more.