The Impaler Lives

In his book, “Is This a Great Game or What?”, Tim Kurkjian relayed the tale of Vladimir Guerrero‘s humble beginnings in pro ball. Then a lanky 16-year-old, Guerrero showed up at a tryout in the Dominican Republic on the back of a motorcycle. Sporting mismatched shoes with a sock shoved into one of them to make it fit, Vlad earned himself a contract with Montreal that day. The motorcycle driver got a couple hundred bucks, and the Expos got themselves one of the most devastating hitters in recent memory.

Since debuting with Les Expos as a 21-year-old in 1996, Guerrero has authored a .322/.386/.569 line. Possessing uncanny bat speed and hand-eye coordination and employing an eyes-to-ankles strike zone — he’ll swing at balls, strikes, fastballs, breaking stuff, off-speed, low-flying birds, errant gum wrappers and plastic bags — Vlad’s wRC+ is 144.

Heading into 2010, however, Guerrero appeared to be squarely in the decline phase of his career. Injuries really began to take their toll on The Impaler in 2009. Guerrero was slowed in spring training while recovering from off-season surgery on his right knee. He suffered a strained right pectoral muscle in April and a right calf strain in July, requiring a DL stint for both ailments. Vlad was limited to 407 plate appearances during his last season with the Angels, and he wasn’t his usual self at the dish.

Guerrero posted a .295/.334/.460 triple-slash, with his worst wRC+ (110) since that 27 PA stint with Montreal back in ’96. His mammoth power was conspicuously absent — Vlad’s Isolated Power, which ranged from .218 to .222 the previous three seasons, was a mild .164. The pending free agent produced just 0.8 Wins Above Replacement.

Guerrero’s days as an offensive force appeared numbered — entering his mid-thirties, his body was betraying him. He had to settle for a modest one-year, $6.5 million deal with the Texas Rangers this past winter, with a mutual option for the 2011 season. Suffice it to say, reports of The Impaler’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

In 311 PA with Texas, Guerrero’s hitting .339/.383/.580. His 152 wRC+ is his highest mark since 2005, as is his .240 ISO. With +19.5 Park Adjusted Batting Runs, Vlad ranks 11th among MLB hitters. And despite being a DH/part-time corner outfielder, he has already put up 2.6 WAR on the season. Last night, Guerrero went 4-for-4 while clubbing a pair of homers — he hammered a Scott Kazmir changeup for a grand slam in the fourth inning and smoked a Francisco Rodriguez slider in the eighth.

A few days ago, I looked at Joe Mauer‘s unusual productivity when hitting the ball to the opposite field. Guerrero was also well above-average when going “oppo” in 2007 and 2008, while crushing the ball to center field most effectively. He continued to fare well when going to the middle field last year, but his performance when going the opposite way tailed off considerably:

As Vlad’s numbers when going the opposite way declined, he hit more pitches in that direction:

In 2010, Guerrero has been most effective when pulling the ball:

He has reversed those spray trends — Vlad’s hitting to the pull field 42.2 percent of the time, going to the middle field 39.5 percent and going the opposite way just 18.3 percent.

Vladimir Guerrero‘s raking, and he’s making the Rangers look very smart. Wherever that motorcycle driver is, he deserves a bigger tip.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on and, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

23 Responses to “The Impaler Lives”

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  1. Ellis says:

    Woah, the Angels have a new Francisco Rodriguez!? I thought that was a typo!

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  2. Markoz says:

    I co-worker and I were discussing Vlad’s Hall of Fame chances.

    For kicks, I did a search on career ISO of at least .240, and a K-rate of less than 16%.

    Vlad checks in at .247 / 12.3%. (I picked 16% since Ruth’s is 15.8%)

    The are are only 11 others in that group, and they are all legends: Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, (Barry) Bonds, Pujols, Mays, DiMaggio, Aaron, Frank Robinson, Mize, and Kiner.

    Also, Vlad is 14th all-time in slugging, 21st in OPS, 101st in wRC, 68th in wRAA, 73rd in wRC+.

    Just numbers, yes, but he’s already in very elite company. A couple more healthy years and he should be a no-doubter first ballot.

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    • Adam D says:

      I don’t even think he needs a couple more healthy years for this.

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      • oompaloopma says:

        I looked up the numbers for Vlad and his power numbers were very very very consistent in regards to HRs and Slugging over his career. Roids, does he get a pass or does he get the unfortunate inclusion into the roid era?

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      • PhD Brian says:

        If you ask me, he is a Hall of Famer, but first ballot status is still up for debate. I feel that First ballot induction should be reserved for the best of the best, and small things can make a big difference. For example post season success: in 192 PAs in postseason Vlad has a wOBA of only .328. He has slugged a measly .376 in the postseason. That has to count some against him.

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      • Bill says:

        I think that the fact that he lied about his age will reflect poorly on him when the he is being considered for HoF induction. Not so much because he was older than he said, but because it may cause some writers to question whether or not he used steroids. There’s never been any proof Vlad’s juiced, but he’s already proven he would lie about his age to gain a competitive advantage, so could he also be juicing?

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    • Jason B says:

      Not at all to denigrate Vlad’s considerable HOF chances; just don’t put too much stock into the arguments like “only players with ISO of (x) and K-rate of less than (y)”. As Bill James elegantly pointed out in “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?” you can move those goal posts wherever you like to get your candidate of choice in with some pretty select company (as you yourself did in your own example, choosing a 16% K-rate to purposefully include Ruth).

      It’s kind of a neat parlor trick, but should be pretty heavily discounted as a HOF argument.

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  3. Ellis says:

    I’m with you Markoz, I think he’s a first-ballot HOFer. Looking at his stats next to Jimmie Foxx’s, they seem very similar (Foxx had more power in his prime, but Vlad had the speed).

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  4. Markoz says:

    btw, I can’t find a list of the HOF’ers who didn’t wear batting gloves.

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  5. Mark says:

    Vlad should be/will be a 1st ballot HoFer, but his stats are only similar to Foxx’s in the way that Early Wynn’s are similar to Tom Seaver’s. Vlad’s speed doesn’t quite offset Foxx’s power advantage (2.14 Relative-ISO vs. 1.53 Relative-ISO) and much higher walk rate (102 per 162 games vs. 59 per 162 games).

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  6. suicide squeeze says:

    First Milton Bradley two years ago, and now Vlad this year. The Rangers seem to know a thing or two about filling in the DH spot.

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  7. Or says:

    Aye. It’s just too bad they needed Hank Blalock to fill the void between those two.

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  8. Juan says:

    Markoz: you are so right. Long live Vlad The Impaler.

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  9. CircleChange11 says:

    I think Latin players lying about there age and players taking PEDa are two different situations, although one could place them under the same umbrella of ‘cheating’.

    Personally, I think Vlad is just one of those mega-talented players that is so talented he can be successful while doing some things wrong (like swinging at everything). Every time I hear Vlad’s name, I think of the throw home from the RF corner at Montreal. The guy is just a freak. He’s the guy you don’t want to guard in pick-up basketball or stand next to in the locker room. Natural born athlete.

    As a side point, does anyone know what amount he was signed for? He seems to be one of those guys that would have signed for a large soda, a sandwich, and a pair of shoes … Wheras an American counterpart would have received a 1st round bonus.

    He just seems like ‘that guy’ that could jump over a car, throw a ball over the school, or any other dare/bet one could think of.

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  10. stolenbases says:

    Does Vlad go in the HOF as an Expo or Angel? I say as an Expo.

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    • Mitchell says:

      I agree that he’ll definately go in as an Expo. I guess that would make him the last Expo to make it into the hall.

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  11. DonCoburleone says:

    He has been one of the most feared and entertaining hitters in baseball the last 15 years, and the stats back it up. His ridiculous hand-eye coordination and unique skill set of being able to hit ANY pitch, in ANY count, WITH AUTHORITY is what puts him into the Hall of Fame on the 1st ballot…… Long live the Impaler!

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  12. Carlos Santana says:

    I second DonCoburleone. ANY pitch, ANY count, WITH AUTHORITY = 1st ballot.

    Also, I am a hitting god playing catcher.

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