How the Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hopes to get back to his MVP-like form

DANDIN, FL — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. put his hat back on this past spring training and stood against the backdrop of the Blue Jays outside the clubhouse at the Player Development Complex, smiling and grooving. He said the words that would follow him all season.

“What we did last year is the trailer,” he said through team interpreter Hector Lebrun, “and now you guys are going to see the movie.”

It was a sound bite—so good, that days later, Blue Jays players were sporting T-shirts with the phrase on them around camp.

It was a delightfully fun joke from Guerrero. But, really, quoting billboard material eventually became somewhat of a burden. It followed the team all season as the club fell behind the New York Yankees in the division race almost immediately, faded on points during an inconsistent season, saw their coach fired in the summer and only lasted a short while the playoffs ended. in a destructive way. The Blue Jays season ended with very high expectations looking more like a horror flick than a summer blockbuster that became some kind of running joke on social media.

So this spring, against the backdrop of the Blue Jays themselves, a reporter asked Guerrero to predict what the season would be like for his team. This time, there will be no eloquent note that can live on the Internet forever.

“This year I won’t say anything,” he said with a smile. “You guys should watch.”

In many ways, last season was a valuable learning experience for Guerrero, who may be entering his fifth season in the majors, but remains a young player who will only turn 24 next month. Having reached great heights in 2021, when he led the majors with 48 home runs and finished second in American League MVP voting, Guerrero hasn’t quite matched the same level as last year.

True, it was still very good. Guerrero is very talented. In what was considered a down season by his standards, he slugged .274/.339/.480 and led the team with 32 home runs. His 132+ in the WRC was among the top 20 of all eligible AL hitters and 32 percent better than average. But, his strikes were high, while his walks were low. He was chasing more pitches out of the area than ever before in the major leagues, and while he still hit the ball harder than almost everyone else in the major leagues, a lot of balls were knocked into the ground. His groundball rate was 52.1 percent, the seventh-highest of the majors.

year HR wRC+ K% BB% swing % GB%















Guerrero identified chasing too many bad pitches as the main reason for his below-expected performance last year. No one pitch has fooled him more, he said, than the others, though a look at the heat map from last year indicates that pitchers targeted low and far to make swings and misses from it. Throughout the minors, Guerrero was respected for his meticulous knowledge of the strike zone and his disciplined approach, which many noted as differing greatly from that of his Hall of Fame inducted father.

Why, then, was Guerrero chasing so many pitches last year? Before LeBron could finish translating the question, Guerrero replied, “Worried.”

“I feel like last year I was a little anxious,” he continued. “You may be trying to do too much.”

Not only had Guerrero set high expectations for the team, but for himself as well.

“I put a lot of pressure on (myself),” he explained. “As a ballplayer, you want to get better every year. You guys know the numbers I put in at 21. So, last spring training, I came here trying to do better — even better numbers. And I think that affected me a little bit. But this year , I came (in) with a plan. I will just trust in my talent and keep working hard, and I hope everything goes well.”

Knowing he’s been chasing a lot, pitch selection is the area Guerrero said he’s looking to improve the most. He said that if shooters are looking to stick around, he’s willing to just hitchhike. While he can work to improve his pitch selection in a number of ways, he said a big part of it is mental.

“For example, if you want to go the other way, make sure the ball is out,” he said. “If I want to drag, make sure the ball is in. But it’s all mental.”

In baseball, pitchers are expected to adapt to hitters and it is the batter’s responsibility to adapt again. “The league has certainly been pretty consistent in the way they’ve been trying to attack” Guerrero last year, said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. Covering his plate allows him to get his keg to a lot of balls, including those outside the area. But just because he can’t mean it. For Guerrero, it’s not about chasing a specific launch angle or changing his mechanics. The Blue Jays feel the key to their success will only be to focus on attacking pitches that they can damage.

“We want him to be in his mind as just a hitter,” Schneider said. “Before he became a 48 homer, he was just a really good hitter. And I think with swinging the right pitches, I think that balances balls in the air and balls on the ground. With it, I think it will translate.”

With more left-handed balancers in the lineup, including a veteran hitter like Brandon Belt, Schneider said he also hopes Guerrero doesn’t chase down those big hits like he did at times last year.

“It may be he’s more of a man, it may be he’s walking and I think when he’s locked into that mindset he gets really dangerous and these bugs hit really far,” Schneider said.

On the other side of the ball, Guerrero has been working on his play at first base with new bench coach Don Mattingly throughout the first week of camp. Guerrero’s defensive play was a bright spot in his senior year and resulted in his first Gold Glove Award. He still has a ways to go to catch up to Mattingly’s nine championship wins over his 14-year career, but Guerrero said he’s already received advice from the former Yankees baserunner: “He’s been great to me.”

Guerrero is set to play for the Dominican Republic in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. He will join a stacked team that includes Julio Rodriguez, Juan Soto, Rafael Devers and former teammate Teoscar Hernandez. He will remain at the Blue Jays camp until early March before leaving to join DR in South Florida.

In the meantime, focus on what he needs to do to prepare for the season. The key for him this season isn’t just about being more relaxed.

“It focuses on what I really want,” he said.

(Top photo: Nathan Ray Sibeck/USA Today)


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