Will Vlad Jr. Hit .400?

Projections suggests that Vlad Jr. is already one of baseball’s top 20 hitters.
(Photo: Tricia Hall)

It’s probably fair to say that batting average, as a shorthand for the quality of a hitter, has lost a bit of luster over the past decade or two as the public has become acquainted with metrics that correlate more strongly with scoring runs and winning games. That said, for a player to hit safely in 40% of his at-bats at any professional level is still incredibly rare and worthy of consideration.

Even if he weren’t to hit .400 this year, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would still be worthy of consideration. As the son of a Hall of Famer, as a 19-year-old who has already reached Triple-A, there’s plenty that merits attention. But he’s also batting .389 in the middle of August, which means that Guerrero the Younger has a shot at a historic season.

Over at MLB.com, Jim Callis went through the list of minor leaguers who have hit .400 in a season. It’s not long. Back in 1999, Erubiel Durazo was a 25-year-old playing in Arizona’s system after a few years in the Mexican League. He hit .404 in 409 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A before his callup to the majors. He hit .329 for the Diamondbacks, putting his average at .381 for the full season. Back in 1961, Aaron Pointer hit .401, but almost all of that time was spent in Class-D, which was low in the stratosphere of minor-league affiliates — sitting below not only Triple-A, Double-A, and Single-A, but also Class-B and -C. Given the state of the minor leagues before the 1960s, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that the last time a a player hit .400 facing a reasonably high level of competition was Ted Williams in 1941, when he hit .406 on the season.

Guerrero missed time earlier in the year with a knee injury and has come to bat just 351 times this season. If he plays out the minor-league season and starts 13 of 15 game,s averaging 4.3 plate appearances per game, he’s only going to end up with around 407 plate appearances, which isn’t quite a full season. Assuming 3.1 PA per game over 136 minor-league games, one arrives at 422 PA as the standard for the high minors. Even if the Blue Jays brought Guerrero to the big leagues — more on that later — and gave him 20 starts, he’d still end up at roughly 493 plate appearances, just short of the 502 needed to qualify for the MLB batting title.

To determine Guerrero’s chances at hitting .400 in the minor league season, we have to approximate Guerrero’s talent level against minor leaguers. He has a .389 total batting average between Double-A and Triple-A with a .339 average in only 71 Triple-A plate appearances. With 56 presumed plate appearances left in the minor-league season, we can expect him to take six walks, which would be consistent with his 10% walk rate this season.

Using that calculus, Guerrero would need to record 24 hits in his final 50 at-bats in order to hit .400 on the season. What are the chances of that happening? I’ll provide two scenarios, one where Guerrero’s current .389 average represents his current talent level and one where a more reasonable .340 average does.

Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s Shot at .400
MiLB Talent Level Exactly .400 At least .400
.389 4.8% 12.1%
.340 1.4% 2.8%
He needs 24 hits in 50 at bats to hit .400.

If you believe that what Guerrero has done this season represents his talent level against minor-league pitchers, then he has a 12% chance of hitting .400 this season. If .340 is more representative of expectations in Triple-A the rest of the season, then the odds are just 3% to reach the magic number. Because there is so little time left in the season and Guerrero currently has ground to make up, his chances don’t look great. If he were hitting .400 right now, even at the .340 projection, his chances at .400 wold be around 22% and near 50% with a .389 projection. As it stands, to give him 50/50 odds at .400, you’d need to believe he’s a .471 projected hitter.

Guerrero’s season doesn’t have to end with the conclusion of the minor-league season, though, as the parent Blue Jays play baseball all September. I’ve added another 20 games for Guerrero with a few different projections, including Steamer’s .302, to find a few more odds.

Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s Shot at .400
MiLB/MLB Talent Level Exactly .400 At least .400
.389/.302 0.7% 2.0%
.389/.340 2.1% 7.1%
.340/.302 0.2% 0.6%
He needs 55 hits 129 at bats to hit .400.

Providing Guerrero with a larger sample over which to reach .400 doesn’t really improve his chances, because a promotion to the majors also means a step up in competition. Even if you think Guerrero is a .389 minor-league hitter and a .340 major-league hitter, he would still only have a 7% chance at hitting .400 over the rest of the season. It’s not impossible. Craig Wilson, for example, got 53 plate appearances for the White Sox in his 1998 debut and hit .468. It just isn’t likely.

There is one other scenario we haven’t discussed, however, and that’s the Blue Jays calling up Guerrero right now. We’ll go with the Steamer .302 figure for that. As the table below indicates, the odds are very long in this version of things.

Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s Shot at .400
MLB Talent Level Exactly .400 At least .400
.302 0.1% 0.2%
He needs 55 hits 129 at bats to hit .400.

If Guerrero were called up today, he’d only have a 1-in-500 shot at having a .400 season. His odds of hitting .400 in the majors over the course of the rest of the season would be about 1-in-100. Those odds might be long, but they are actually pretty impressive. That .302 projected batting average from Steamer is behind only Jose Altuve’s .307 mark while matching Mike Trout and Mookie Betts’s figures. It’s not just batting average where Guerrero rates highly. He is one of the top-20 hitters in baseball right now despite having to stay in the minors all year.

Current Steamer Projection wRC+ Leaders
Name Team AVG OBP SLG wRC+
Mike Trout Angels .302 .440 .597 180
Giancarlo Stanton Yankees .277 .362 .598 155
J.D. Martinez Red Sox .295 .366 .573 148
Bryce Harper Nationals .276 .400 .534 146
Mookie Betts Red Sox .302 .381 .534 143
Freddie Freeman Braves .294 .390 .524 143
Joey Votto Reds .286 .421 .478 142
Paul Goldschmidt D-backs .282 .394 .513 141
Jose Ramirez Indians .294 .376 .525 140
Nelson Cruz Mariners .270 .352 .522 139
Anthony Rizzo Cubs .277 .386 .513 138
Kris Bryant Cubs .277 .381 .506 137
Aaron Judge Yankees .253 .368 .505 136
Josh Donaldson Blue Jays .260 .367 .496 134
Juan Soto Nationals .287 .385 .494 134
Alex Bregman Astros .276 .360 .484 134
Justin Turner Dodgers .288 .371 .477 133
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Blue Jays .302 .365 .493 132
Francisco Lindor Indians .289 .360 .503 132
Matt Carpenter Cardinals .260 .382 .473 131
George Springer Astros .265 .356 .473 131
Jose Altuve Astros .307 .368 .465 130
Eloy Jimenez White Sox .293 .336 .510 129
Jose Abreu White Sox .283 .344 .503 128
Miguel Cabrera Tigers .285 .369 .482 128
Christian Yelich Brewers .292 .370 .485 128

While the numbers suggest Guerrero might already be one of baseball’s best hitters, he’s unlikely to have an opportunity to provide proof of concept. If the Blue Jays were contending for a playoff spot and trying actively to win games, Guerrero would likely already have a place in their lineup. They aren’t, though, so he isn’t. And because Guerrero isn’t a Blue Jay now, he likely won’t be a Blue Jay for the first few weeks of next season, either, as Toronto seeks to acquire another year of control over their hitting prodigy. We saw this happen to Kris Bryant in his rookie campaign. We saw it happen with Gleyber Torres and Ronald Acuna in April of this year. (Here’s a reminder that the Braves are currently one game from falling out of the playoffs.) It’s likely to happen with Guerrero and Eloy Jimenez next spring.

While there is sometimes real logic for giving certain prospects extra time in the minors, the practice of doing so merely to extend team control by a year ultimately does a disservice to the game. Currently, however, that’s the direction in which teams are incentivized — even teams that appear likely to compete for a playoff spot. Ultimately, everyone would benefit from an improved version of the policy. Kris Bryant’s service-time grievance went nowhere, however, so some combination of the union, teams, and/or commissioner will have to change this practice and prevent it from occurring.

We hoped you liked reading Will Vlad Jr. Hit .400? by Craig Edwards!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

newest oldest most voted
Monsignor Martinez
Member
Monsignor Martinez

I’m really hoping that the Blue Jays do a sign-and-promote with Jr ASAP, so he can start compiling major league numbers.

Don Zimmer will have his revenge on Pedro
Member
Member
Don Zimmer will have his revenge on Pedro

This is a wild overgeneralization on my part, but he seems like he would be an extremely unlikely candidate for that kind of scenario given: a) his father already set his family up; b) Vlad Jr. himself signed for almost $4m and c) He’ll be up next season at latest, so he’s likely to hit free agency at an early age. Seems like the guys who have the most incentive to sign the kind of deal you’re describing are less financially secure and/or have less strong free agency outlooks.

snapper
Member
snapper

Yeah, when your dad made $125M, no need to sell low to get financial security.

delv213
Member
delv213

But it would be his money now, security is always nice too. It just means Vlad Jr likely wouldn’t sell himself for anything super team friendly. I’d still try to get him to sign something like 7/125 which would let him hit Free Agency one year later than it normally would through the arbitration route but still giving him the expectation he becomes something great.

Don Zimmer will have his revenge on Pedro
Member
Member
Don Zimmer will have his revenge on Pedro

That might actually get it done if you were only buying out one single free agency year, but $125m for 7 years would be insane even if you think Vlad is gonna be a superstar. By comparison, Manny Machado has only earned about $34m in salary to this point and Bryce Harper has earned around $45m in salary (per Cot’s Contracts). Mike Trout’s $144m extension came when he already banked more than 2 years of service time and it bought out 2 free agency years (I think).

So, I think you’d be safe to project Vlad Jr. to not likely earn more than $45m in six years AND to also end up being less valuable than 22 year old Mike Trout. I don’t think the team does $125m to buy out only one free agency year before even promoting the guy.

Hughes
Member
Member
Hughes

Trout’s extension covers 3 years of free agency @ 33.2M each. This past off-season would have been his free agent year.

Hughes
Member
Member
Hughes

The context of that signing is on the back of 2 seasons at 10 WAR. Vlad Jr. having seasons as an average defensive 3B and average base runner would be fortunate given his size right now.

If you want to be super aggressive in signing him right now, you need to be thinking more in the 125m/9 range.

Matt
Member
Member
Matt

Yep. Whatever you sign him to, feels like it’s worth it. Sign him to like an 8 year deal for 150M and I get to see him play in Toronto tonight.

That or MLB really needs to change the rules. I saw just dump super-2 but make a season like 90 days of service. So basically you call a guy up after July, you get an extra year of control. With rules like that, he’d be up already.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC

Or he might not be up until next July. Wherever you make a cutoff, it can be exploited.

Monsignor Martinez
Member
Monsignor Martinez

My thought process behind this is that if he was offered 7 years for a reasonable amount of money, he would reach FA at the same time as he would if he was called up next year, but instead he would be A) guaranteed big money for the rest of his life and B) compiling mlb stats while he is young and certainly productive, helping build stats that might one day get him into the HOF (I realize that 6 months doesn’t move the needle a ton, but it certainly doesn’t hurt).