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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