2011 Orioles Retrospective: Vlad Guerrero

To say I was not a fan of the Vlad Guerrero signing is probably an understatement. It was pretty bad at the time, and actually managed to turn out even worse than I had expected (but he had a track-record!):

Projected Actual
PA 550 590
BA .291 .290
OBP .336 .317
SLG .467 .416
wOBA .346 .318
BB% 5% 3%
K% 12% 9%
HR 22 13
BABIP .300 .302
Defense N/A N/A
WAR 1.1 0.0

Vlad didn’t draw a walk until May 3rd, which was awful but amazingly not even the longest streak to start the season (Chicago’s Brent Morel went till the 29th – 117 PA to Guerrero’s 115*). The lack of walks wasn’t too surprising given his reputation, and Vlad did stay true to form by swinging at pitches out of the strike-zone more often than anyone in baseball (according to FanGraphs). The best part of it all (or worst, depending on perspective), is that for the first time in his career he actually had more double play (23) than walks (17). That ratio (1.35 to 1) is the 17th worst of all time**. Vlad’s lucky he still makes a lot of contact and keeps his average up, or his OBP would really have been terrible.

* The third longest streak was… Felix Pie (99 PA).
** Tops is former Oriole Deivi Cruz, who was at 1.92 (25 to 13) in 2000 for Detroit.

Perhaps worse than all the outs – which were expected – was the lack of power. Vlad’s ISO dipped to .126, and the 13 longballs were his fewest since 1997 (his rookie season, where he had only 354 PA). He put the ball on the ground a lot – almost 50% of the time – but even when he elevated it he didn’t do much damage. Vlad’s home run per fly ball rate dropped to just 8%, compared to 16% for 2002 to 2011 total (and 15% last year). Perhaps a slower bat made it harder for him to get around on the ball, since only 16% of his flyballs went to left, whereas it was 29% for ’02-’10. On fastballs in particular, it seems he rarely drove the pitch passed medium-depth left-field; in 2010, even, that was more frequent. Of his 13 home runs, 7 were pulled – but only 3 of those ended up going more than 400 feet. Overall, Vlad’s average home run distance fell from the 405-410 foot range it had been in to just over 390 feet. He just appeared to be a shell of his former self.

A designated hitter who doesn’t walk or hit for power is… likely to find himself out of baseball in short order (as Vlad’s replacement level production for something like 17 times what it should cost would indicate). Early in the season I said that I looked forward to the day when O’s fans would realize that JJ Hardy was, at this point, a superior player to Vladimir Guerrero. The pull of the FVHOFRCUH was strong, but it seems like everyone eventually got there. It’s unfortunate it ended up being so clear, given that Vlad was such an exciting player to watch in his prime. In 2011 it was mostly painful seeing him wave at pitches way at of the zone while so rarely making up for it with something positive. But hey… remember that time he got a hit on a pitch that bounced? It was against the Orioles (in 2009), but still pretty awesome.