I will admit to some surprise when I looked at the list of Defensive Runs Saved leaders at first base.
That Christian Walker of the Diamondbacks ranked first with 10 – and first by a wide margin – wasn’t what got me. It was that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ranked No. 2. Better than Matt Olson, and Freddie Freeman, and Anthony Rizzo and many others (see the full list here)
Yep, Guerrero has 6 Defensive Runs Saved at first base (he had -4 in 2020 and 2 in 2021). And there are a few things to point out about that.
One is that Guerrero is pretty good at going to his right. The Blue Jays give him a lot of responsibility when a right-handed batter is up because of how aggressively they shift some of those hitters. Guerrero is often left to cover a wide swath of ground and he has been up to the challenge.
And though some of his tosses to the pitcher covering may be a little askew, he does have a rifle arm when it’s needed.
Over the last three seasons, Guerrero has converted 43% of opportunities on balls hit to his right into outs (he’s at a still-robust 40% this season). Only Walker (50%) and Evan White (44%) rank higher among first basemen among the 35 players with the most opportunities in that time.
With as good as Guerrero was at going to his right, that came with meh numbers on ‘at-em balls’ and balls hit to his left. But this season, Guerrero has cleaned that up. He’s turned 45 of 47 opportunities on those balls into outs this season (96%). His success rate on them in 2020 and 2021 was 78%.
While we can give Guerrero credit for good range, he’s also been much better at handling throws.
In 2021, our Video Scouts charged Guerrero was 15 Defensive Misplays & Errors for failing to catch a throw from a teammate. In 2022, he has only 2 such Misplays & Errors.
Part of that is that the Blue Jays are situated better, with Matt Chapman now regularly at third base and Bo Bichette’s throwing a little bit better than it was last season at shortstop.
But that’s not to say that Vlad can’t pick it.
We’ve credited Guerrero with 13 Good Fielding Plays related to catching throws – in line with the 19 he had last season – but without all those mistakes that brought down his and the Blue Jays’ defensive numbers.
So yes, Guerrero hasn’t hit like he did last season, when he walloped 48 home runs and was an MVP candidate. But it does seem like – at age 23 – he’s still growing as a player – just in a little bit of a different way than you might have expected.