Vladimir Guerrero Jr. finding power stroke the Blue Jays need

The Blue Jays first baseman has been getting on base all season, but his power is showing up at a time when Toronto lacks thump

Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. found his power stroke in the Bronx. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. found his power stroke in the Bronx. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made plenty of headlines prior to the Toronto Blue Jays' recent series with the New York Yankees by doubling down on last year's claim that he would never wear pinstripes.

It was a storyline that allowed the fun-loving first baseman to make a heel turn, inviting a hail of boos from the denizens of Yankee Stadium — a rarity for a player who is often embraced on the road.

If all the added attention affected Guerrero at all, it didn't show in his performance. The 24-year-old went 4-for-11 in the series, with two impressive home runs coming in two distinct flavours.

The first was an arching 417-footer that put the Blue Jays ahead early in Friday's 6-1 win.

Via Baseball Savant
Via Baseball Savant

The second was a Giancarlo Stanton-esque low liner at 112.6 mph that didn't seem to sink at all. It gave the Blue Jays a lead late Sunday, sending their win probability from 46.2% to 76.4%.

Considering that Guerrero is a star slugger who hit 80 home runs in his past two seasons, it's not particularly surprising to see him go deep twice in a series. That said, it was notable for a couple of reasons.

The first is that he hadn't displayed much power this season prior to his big performance in the Bronx. Heading into the series against the Yankees, Guerrero had an ISO of .135 and just four extra-base hits in 19 games.

That's not a brutal number, but it's unusual to see Guerrero's power output fall below the MLB average (.157) for that long of a stretch. There was no reason to panic, especially considering that he was getting plenty of attention for his improved eye and striking out at a lower rate than ever.

Even so, it was worth wondering if a less aggressive approach at the dish was harming his ability to do the kind of damage that has made him one of the majors' most feared hitters in recent years.

Three games shouldn't change our understanding of Guerrero too much, but his ISO (.200) is now back up near his career average (.220), and his low strikeout rate (10.1%) looks less like it might be holding him back.

That's exciting news for the Blue Jays.

If their two-time All-Star can keep putting the ball in play at an elite rate without sacrificing pop, his offensive ceiling is virtually limitless. That's especially true considering he's doing a good job of lifting the ball right now.

His launch angle (10.4) would be a career high, and his groundball rate (44.7%) would be a career low if they held up — and both numbers are similar to his near-MVP 2021 season.

So instead of a productive start with a notable red flag, we're now looking at a player who is doing just about everything right with the bat.

The second reason Guerrero's power display is important for the Blue Jays is that the team has had difficulty generating extra-base hits all season, despite hot starts from Matt Chapman and Bo Bichette.

Since Guerrero and Bichette arrived on the scene in 2019, hitting home runs has never been much of an issue for the Blue Jays, but so far, the 2023 club hasn't packed the same wallop as its predecessors.

Via FanGraphs
Via FanGraphs

Some of these numbers can be explained by a conscious shift in philosophy.

The Blue Jays moved on from an elite power threat in Teoscar Hernandez, and gave one of their starting outfield spots to the light-hitting Kevin Kiermaier. Speed and defence are more of a point of emphasis than they were in 2022.

At the same time, the Blue Jays haven't gotten much power from offseason additions Daulton Varsho and Brandon Belt, who have combined for three homers in 138 trips to the plate.

Danny Jansen — who produced MLB's 10th-best ISO among players with 400-plus plate appearances between 2021 and 2022 — hasn't done much with the bat yet, either. Thanks in part to his brutal luck, George Springer has produced just four extra-base hits.

While Toronto tried to become a more balanced team this offseason, its strength is still meant to be its punishing lineup. Right now, the team ranks 16th in the majors in run scoring, largely due to its inability to pile up extra-base hits.

For most of the season, Guerrero was part of the problem despite his consistency getting on base. Now he looks primed to be the centrepiece of the solution.