Why Guerrero's subtle tweaks could change the Blue Jays' fortunes at home plate

Why Guerrero’s subtle tweaks could change the Blue Jays’ fortunes at home plate

TORONTO — The least exciting way to bring a run home might very well be the base-laden walk, especially one in which the batter isn’t even tempted to hit anything the pitcher offers.

That’s how the Toronto Blue Jays scored their only point in Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners, when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. kept the bat on his shoulder for five straight shots from Marco Gonzales before getting to first base.

For a team that struggled to deliver big shots, it wasn’t exactly a fascinating moment.

Beneath the surface, however, it was a plate appearance of wider significance for Guerrero, who tied George Springer for the team leader in RBIs at 21, and the Blue Jays. Gonzales nibbled around the area, not just out of caution with last year’s AL MVP runner-up, but likely also because the 23-year-old is swinging at balls 10% more often this year than last year. latest.

Consider this pitch chart from Guerrero’s 16and walk of the season.

Gonzales is clearly trying to exploit Guerrero’s eagerness to do damage. The Blue Jays, trailing 1-0 and trying to take the lead, were desperate to put a twisted number on the board. Guerrero remained disciplined enough not to back down.

“Sometimes at the start of the season maybe I didn’t have the exact same plan I had last year. Sometimes I tried to do too much myself, whether we were doing well or badly. I just took it on myself,” Guerrero said in an interview performed by Hector Lebron.

“Maybe I put a little more pressure on myself, I guess, especially with runners in scoring position. But I already see it, so I try to work on it and now I start taking everything they give me. I trust my teammates, whoever is hitting behind me, and if they give me the walk, I take my walk.

Amid continued pressure to deliver to home plate and rack up all the runs that offense needed to produce, what the Blue Jays collectively need is the kind of sound approach that Guerrero showed in that third inning.

More than most, Guerrero felt the brunt of the team’s scoring problems, regularly drifting away from his area in pursuit of extra goals.

This season, his hunt percentage sits at 34%, up from 24.5% a year ago. It also comes into contact with those terrains more often, at a clip of 60% from 47.3% in 2021, so it swings into worse terrains and hits them more often, which isn’t what you want .

Despite this, Guerrero is still among the best contacts in baseball, his 93.5 mph average exit speed in the top three percent of the majors, his 54.6 hitting percentage in the top two percent and his maximum bike output of 117.9 in the top 1%.

The pitcher’s mound and infield positions remain incredibly scary places when he’s at home plate.

But because he’s widened his area – and he’s so talented he can still hit bad throws ridiculously hard – his average launch angle has dropped dramatically, from 9.6 degrees a year ago. year at 4.1 now. That partly helps explain why in the 11 games since hitting his seventh homer on May 5 at Cleveland, he’s made 48 appearances at plate without an extra hit during a 15-game hitting streak. .

“It’s more about the courts I play on,” Guerrero said. “Like instead of seeing a good pitch and hitting it in the middle, I just try to shoot it, try to shoot it. It is essentially what it is. I just have to stay in the strike zone and in the middle.

An example of that came in Round 8 on Wednesday against Paul Sewald. Down 0-2 in the count, Guerrero fired a 93.2 mph fastball into right field for a hit.

He used a similar approach Monday night on a third-inning single down the right side on a Chris Flexen cutter. Since Guerrero often indicates he’s at his best when he stays in the middle, base hits could perhaps be seen as leading indicators that he’s right.

“Sort of,” he said, smiling at the suggestion. “The sign is when I hit him in right field. It is then that you will see that I am right.

The challenge, of course, is maintaining the discipline necessary at home plate to force pitchers into its happy zones.

A fierce competitor who is happier going 0 for 4 in a win than going 4 for 4 in a loss, Guerrero understands the responsibility on his shoulders. The fact that the Blue Jays didn’t hit around him amplified his start below expectations, although it’s important to note that 99% of players want a .284/.368/.470 batting line as a peak, where for Guerrero it is a quiet stretch.

Still, he knows he missed hitting shots and he allowed it to affect him in the box.

“It’s more about trying to do too much and I guess it’s a little anxious,” Guerrero explained. “For example, if I have a pitch that I’m maybe looking for and I hit it wrong, sometimes I get really anxious because I really want that pitch again to try and hit it like I should have hit the pitch. previous one, which I missed. So it’s a combination. I’m trying to do a little too much and I’m getting a little anxious.

In Round 6 on Wednesday, he was better in that regard. Check out his reaction here after fouling a Gonzales 1-1 cutter that could easily have ended up in the seats.

He spat on a chasing change on the next pitch before ripping a zone low change to third on the next pitch. It ended in an out, but Guerrero didn’t come out of his approach.

This process rather than results may not be exciting. But for the Blue Jays to pull out of that long cold streak at the plate, the turnaround will be rooted in such subtle adjustments.

Guerrero is doing his best to make this happen as quickly as possible.

“I think I’m starting to get better with every game, especially controlling the strike zone,” he said. “I worked hard with the batting coaches and I feel better. That works.”

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