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


TORONTO – The least exciting way to take a run home may well be a bases-loaded walk, especially one in which the batter isn’t even tempted to hit anything the pitcher offers.

That’s how he Toronto Blue Jays scored his only run in Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to the Seattle Marinerswhen Vladimir Guerrero Jr. kept the bat on his shoulder for five consecutive pitches from marco gonzalez before jogging to first base.

For a team that has struggled to hit big, it wasn’t exactly a thrilling moment.

Beneath the surface, though, it was a major plate appearance for both Guerrero, who tied George Springer for the team lead in RBIs with 21, and the Blue Jays. Gonzales nibbled around the area, not only out of caution with last year’s AL MVP runner-up, but also probably because the 23-year-old is hitting balls 10 percent more often this year than he was last.

Consider this table of shots from the Guerrero 16the season ride.

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

“Sometimes at the beginning of the season, maybe I didn’t have exactly the same plan that I had last year. Sometimes I tried to do too much myself, regardless of whether we’re doing it right or wrong. I just assumed it,” Guerrero said in an interview performed by Héctor Lebron.

“Maybe I’m putting a little more pressure on myself, I guess, especially with the runners in scoring position. But I’m already seeing that so I’m trying to work on that and now I’m starting to take whatever they give me. I trust my teammates, the one that’s hitting behind me, and if they walk me, I take it.”

Amid continued pressure to deliver at the plate and rack up all the runs this offense was expected to produce, what the Blue Jays collectively need most is the kind of solid focus Guerrero displayed in that third inning.

More than most, Guerrero has been feeling the brunt of the team’s scoring struggles, regularly moving out of his zone in search of extra-base hits.

This season, his chase percentage is 34 percent, compared to 24.5 percent a year ago. He’s also making contact with those pitches more often, at a rate of 60 percent versus 47.3 percent in 2021, so he’s hitting worse pitches and hitting them more often, which is not what you want.

Despite that, Guerrero is still making one of the best contacts in baseball, his 93.5 mph average exit velocity in the top three percent of the majors, his 54.6 hard hitting percentage in the top two percent and its maximum veil output of 117.9 in the top one percent.

The pitcher’s mound and infield positions are still incredibly scary places when he’s at the plate.

But because he’s expanded his zone, and is so talented that he can still hit ridiculously hard bad pitches, his average launch angle has dropped dramatically, from 9.6 degrees a year ago to 4.1 now. That partly helps explain why in the 11 games since he hit his seventh home run on May 5 at Cleveland, he has had 48 plate appearances without an extra-base hit amid a 15-game hitting streak.

“It’s more about the pitches I swing at,” Guerrero said. “Like instead of seeing a good pitch and hitting it back in the middle, I’m just trying to pull it, trying to pull it. That’s basically what it is. I just have to stay in the strike zone and through the middle.”

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

He employed a similar approach Monday night with a third-inning single to the right side on a cut by Chris Flexen. Given that Guerrero often points to being at his best when he stays in the middle, base hits could perhaps be taken as leading indicators that he’s doing the right thing.

“More or less,” he said, smiling at the suggestion. “The sign is when I hit right field. That’s when you’re going to see that I’m right.”

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

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

Still, he knows he’s missed pitches to hit and has allowed it to affect him in the box.

“It’s more trying to do too much and I guess being a little anxious,” Guerrero explained. “For example, if I have a pitch that I’m maybe looking for and I foul it out, sometimes I get very anxious because I really want that pitch again to try and make it the way I should have thrown the previous pitch. that I made a mistake. So, it’s a combination. I’m trying to do too much and getting a little anxious.”

In the sixth inning on Wednesday, he was better in that regard. Check out his reaction here after fouling off a 1-1 cut from Gonzales that could have easily ended up in the seats.

He spat on a chase changeup on the next pitch before breaking the bottom of the changeup zone to third on the very next pitch. He ended up out, but Guerrero didn’t come off his approach.

That process over results may not be exciting. But for the Jays to snap out of this extended cold streak at the plate, the trade will be based on such subtle adjustments.

Guerrero is doing everything he can to make this happen as quickly as possible.

“I think every game I start to get better, especially controlling the strike zone,” he says. “I’ve been working hard with the hitting coaches and I feel better. Is working.”


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