On February 7th, 2024, Toronto Blue Jays all-star First baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. won the largest arbitration case in MLB history. The former MVP candidate won a record salary of $19.9 million, beating out the Blue Jays offer of $18.05 million. This has beaten out Teoscar Hernandez’s $14 million contract he signed with the Mariners after being traded in 2023. Guerrero Jr.’s contract is coming out to mixed emotions. With a lot of people pointing at his down year as a reason Toronto should not pay him. However, there are a number of positives to Vladdy’s game that show all he needs is a few adjustments to get back into form.

Main Criticisms of the Contract

To begin to understand why this contract is worth the record breaking price tag, we must understand the reasons people have to criticize the deal. Let’s begin with the most valued stat in baseball, Wins Above Replacement (WAR) which Vladdy unfortunately struggled with. WAR calculates the amount of wins you bring your team compared to the replacement-level players at that position. Vlad has a WAR of 2.0 which is pretty average around the league. This amount of WAR is low for a $20 million player. Many have pointed to that fact and that he has had the lowest batting average since the shortened season in 2020 at .264.

These are not the only dips in Guerrero’s stats. He has also seen his lowest On Base Plus Slugging (OPS) (.788) and Slugging (.444) since his rookie year in 2019 along with a career low 117 OPS+. An OPS+ of 117 means that Vladdy’s OPS is 17 percent higher than league average. That’s not bad but it does mark the worst in his 5 year MLB career. From the outside looking in, Vlad seems like he was not entirely deserving of the highest arbitration case of all time. With the help of advanced analytics I can prove that Vladdy’s swing is still there. It is simply a matter of picking and choosing when to unleash that swing that will bring Vlad back into his 2021 form.

Why is the Contract Worth It?

The 2023 season was not very friendly to Vladimir Guerrero Jr.. The advanced stats might indicate there’s more at play than just Vlad’s swinging mechanics. To begin, the contract he has received has determined the value of Vladdy compared to the rest of the MLB. The price of $19.9 million per year is $5 million less than Fernando Tatis Jr.’s yearly price tag ($24.8 million). Two million less than Austin Rielly ($21.2 million), two million less than Matt Olson ($21 million). Also it is pretty much equal to Jose Ramirez and Yordan Alvarez. This is a list of some of the best players in the MLB. What has Vlad done to put his name beside these caliber of players?

If we take a peek at Vlad’s swing, he has a strikeout percentage (k%) similar to the likes of Mookie Betts, Marcus Semien, Cody Bellinger and Yandy Diaz. He is sitting at 14.7% ranking him 15th in the MLB in that category. So he is striking out less than most of the power hitters we see at his position. He is striking out closer to an all-around hitters amount. Which at his size and with his power is a great skill to have. This fact, while having nearly a 50% swing rate, meaning he is not always being conservative, is a great boost to his skill set as a power hitter.

Now why is he not hitting as well if he is working counts? Well his expected weighted on base average (xWOBA) that calculates the importance of each hit along with on base percentage, is sitting at .378. This ranks him 13th in the league near the likes of Rafeal Devers, Paul Goldshmidt, and Pete Alonso. Vlad also has an expected slugging percentage (xSLG) of .503. Replicating Tatis at .508 and nearing Bo Bichette who just had his best year at the dish. As well as Paul Goldshmidt who early on looked like a serious MVP candidate.

Thus, Vlad’s expected hitting stats are both in the top 95th percentile or higher. Is he just not hitting the ball hard enough? His average exit velocity is sitting at 92.1 MPH, which is 15th and equal to the names of Bryce Harper, Fernando Tatis, and Adolis Garcia. If we want to go even deeper, the average exit velocity of the hardest 50% of his hits is at 104.1 MPH. Which is 9th in the league and sits beside Bryce Harper and Julio Rodriguez.

These facts, along with a hard hit percentage, shows that Vlad hits the ball just as hard as any of the names that have similar salaries. Those names are Austin Rielly, Kyle Shwarber and Mookie Betts. Two lesser stats also show that Vlad’s swing is still among the best in the league. He just had the best launch angle of his career at 10.5 degrees. Also a solid contact percentage of 6.1% mirroring his teammate Bo Bichette. 

He IS Worth it…

The main statistics baseball relies on would tell you Vladimir Guerrero Jr. may never get back to his 2021 form. The Toronto Blue Jays may just be paying him as much as they can in order to get some of that back. In my opinion, it has not gone anywhere. When someone pushes a Triple Crown award in the MLB (leading the league in home runs, runs batted in and batting average), there are going to be adjustments made to how this player is defended and pitched to.

Vlads main issue is swinging too much, especially when there are players on base. When you have the talent and the power Vlad has in his swing, you might want to use it as much as you can. Vlad is at his best when he stays composed and doesn’t try to do too much. That is why we see him do well on two strike counts. He settles down, and lets the pitch come to him rather than going after the pitch. Him doing this early on in the count is accounted for. He then is pitched accordingly to force him into weak contact or an early count fly out. Over the past 2 years we have seen Vlad struggle with that aspect.

With the tools he has, if he can find his footing against how people are now game planning him, Vladdy will be dangerous at the plate. We will all forget about how much we are paying him. Along with the 24 year-old first baseman having one more year under arbitration. I assume he gets closer to the $24 million to $27 million dollar range. Overall, the contract is a good value for a player of Vladdys caliber. In the MLB it’s not like the Blue Jays are worried about a salary cap they have to follow. I think Vlad will be back and better than the past 2 years we have seen him and continue to be a meaningful piece on this Blue Jays team.

Thank you Baseball Savant and Baseball Reference for the numbers.

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