Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is hitting the ball like an MVP but not producing like it

The Blue Jays' star first baseman is punishing the ball like he did as an MVP finalist in 2021, but the results haven't been there

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looks a lot like he did in 2021, but his production is more in line with last season. (Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports)

A brief look at Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s stat line this season suggests he's performing at a high level but failing to reach the ceiling he demonstrated two years ago.

His wRC+ (135) is similar to what he posted last year (132), while his walk and strikeout rates are more or less the same. Despite his monster raw power, however, he's currently on pace for fewer than 30 home runs. Guerrero's season has been far from disastrous, but 2022 was widely considered to be his floor, so replicating that in 2023 has to be considered a disappointment.

The good news for Guerrero — and, by extension, the Toronto Blue Jays — is that his expected numbers look a lot more like they did in 2021 (when he came in second in MVP voting) than last year's output.

Via Baseball Savant
Via Baseball Savant

Guerrero's exit velocity is also up 1.9 mph from last year, and his average launch angle is higher than it has ever been (11.6 degrees). As a result, his groundball rate is at its lowest ever after years of him taking criticism for pounding the ball into the dirt:

Via FanGraphs
Via FanGraphs

These are all positive indicators, and it seems fair to assume that a player with the 11th-best xwOBA among qualified hitters is going to be just fine.

At the same time, it's worth recognizing that the level of production Guerrero achieved two years ago might be out of reach this time around. In terms of raw production, power is down around the league, as the average ISO in the majors was .171 in 2021, and it's 160 this year.

Whether it's due to the ball or the pitching talent, it's simply tougher to be a slugger in 2023 than it was a couple of years ago.

Ballparks are also playing a factor. In 2021, Guerrero slugged .699 at home with 31 home runs in 80 games. The word "home" was a complex one that year, as the Blue Jays played at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida, Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York, and Rogers Centre in the finishing stretch. The two minor-league venues proved to be hitter-friendly, particularly TD Ballpark.

Guerrero's 2021 was not created solely by his beneficial home digs, but it's tough to ignore that he slugged 196 points higher at home and just 35.4% of his home runs came on the road.

Meanwhile, the newly renovated Rogers Centre has played like an extremely pitcher-friendly park so far. There's not enough data to make any strong conclusions, but so far in 2023, it has been the 25th-best place to hit, according to Statcast's Park Factors, and the seventh-hardest place to put the ball over the fence.

Guerrero has already hit one ball that might've been a home run last year without the raised walls.

Via Baseball Savant
Via Baseball Savant

It remains to be seen how Rogers Centre plays for the rest of 2023, but it'll bear watching.

Guerrero's numbers will almost certainly improve, considering his misfortune early in the season. His quality of contact is nothing short of elite, and over the longer term, more of his fly balls will likely clear the wall and bump up his power production. A player with his raw power is unlikely to run a HR/FB at league average for too long.

Via FanGraphs
Via FanGraphs

While there's every reason to be optimistic about his prospects for the rest of the season, Guerrero will likely have a difficult time replicating his 2021 magic. His circumstances are less favourable, and the first quarter of the season has shown that he can put a hurting on the ball with no guarantee of MVP-like numbers.

The Blue Jays would happily settle for something between his output two seasons ago and his down year last year — and that's most likely what they're going to get.