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« Sox Turn to Scrap Heap for Starters | Main | Seth Smith's Platoon Splits »

Vlad No Longer Impaling

For a decade and a half, Vladimir Guerrero has taken thunderous cuts at near everything -- balls, strikes, passing birds, gum wrappers, errant throws from Cracker Jack vendors -- and crushed it all. The impaler, who legend has it showed up for a tryout with the Expos in the Dominican Republic on the back of a motorcycle sporting different-sized spikes, has enjoyed a borderline Cooperstown-caliber career by lashing 449 career home runs (tied with Jeff Bagwell for 35th all-time) and posting a 140 OPS+ (49th-best among hitters with 5,000+ plate appearances).

But, as ESPN's David Schoenfield laments, Vlad's days of impaling could be over:

He played with Baltimore in 2011 and while he hit .290, the reality is that he didn't provide much value. He hit just 13 home runs in 562 at-bats, grounded into 23 double plays and drew just 17 walks. The man who once led the AL four consecutive seasons in intentional walks was no longer feared; among major league regulars, only Yuniesky Betancourt had a lower walk rate. And that's basically who Guerrero has become, except he can't play the field. No team needs a player like that.

Vlad had a good, not great comeback year with the Rangers in 2010 by slugging .496 with a 119 OPS+, but his slugging percentage dropped to just .416 with the O's last year. League-average hitting (101 OPS+) from a guy who provides no defensive value just isn't playable: Guerrero was barely above replacement-level in Baltimore (0.1 Baseball-Reference WAR). Turning 37 in February, Guerrero is now a DH-only player whose bat doesn't look DH-worthy.

The biggest reason for Vlad's power decline in 2011 was his performance against the "soft stuff": curveballs, sliders and changeups. Check out his in-play slugging percentage against those pitches in 2010, and then 2011:

Guerrero's in-play slugging percentage vs. soft pitches, 2010

Guerrero's in-play slugging percentage vs. soft pitches, 2011

Vlad clobbered opponents who took a little off their pitches with the Rangers (a combined .556 slugging percentage versus soft stuff, fifth-best in the majors), but he slugged just .387 against curves, sliders and changeups in 2011. Guerrero's decline was especially sharp against curves and changeups: 

Pitch2010 SLG%2011 SLG%MLB Avg.
Curveball .533 .349 .339
Slider .510 .408 .439
Changeup .625 .383 .385


The Hardball Times' Oliver projection system has Vlad putting up a .733 OPS in 2012, well under the collective .769 OPS that DHs managed last season. And the few teams that could use a DH -- Detroit, Toronto, Baltimore and maybe New York -- don't seem like good fits. We may well have seen the last of Vlad's pine tar-gobbed batting helmet and bare-handed hammering of pitchers. But even if that's the case, this bad-ball hitter's body of work won't soon be forgotten.

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