How Vladimir Guerrero Jr. drew from his dad to become an MVP candidate

It’s apparent by his play that Vladimir Guerrero Jr., has managed to both emulate and, somehow, improve upon how his father succeeded in the batter’s box. The approach has led him into the AL MVP discussion and his team into the playoff race.  

Blue Jays slugger showing patient approach that baffles opposing pitchers

Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero Jr. smiles after hitting a single earlier in the season. (Adam Hunger/The Associated Press)

A name like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., comes with expectations.

Vladimir Guerrero Sr., of course, is a Baseball Hall of Famer, the 2004 American League Most Valuable Player and a nine-time all-star.

In his heyday, Guerrero Sr., who spent the first eight years of his career with the Montreal Expos, was known for his utter dismissal of the strike zone. He once collected a hit off a pitch that bounced before reaching the plate.

And so you wouldn't expect Guerrero Jr., the Toronto Blue Jays first baseman, to be a master of the strike zone. And yet, the 22-year-old strikes out only somewhat more than he walks.

Put the ball over the plate, and Guerrero Jr., might send the ball off his bat at over 110 miles per hour. Leave it off, and he'll happily take a walk.

It's apparent by his play that Guerrero Jr., managed to both emulate and, somehow, improve upon how his father succeeded in the batter's box. The approach has led him into the AL MVP discussion and his team into the playoff race. 

The younger Guerrero's discipline makes a pitcher's job more difficult, says Canadian Olympic softball hurler Danielle Lawrie, who was part of the bronze-medal squad in Tokyo.

"Great hitters are great because for the most part, they're bad ball hitters, great with [the count at] 0-2 and can foul off a lot of pitches until they get something they want," she said.

Guerrero Jr., swings at just over a quarter of the pitches he sees off the plate this season, per FanGraphs. Guerrero Sr., swung at nearly 40 per cent for his career — a mark that would leave him just outside the top 10 in 2021.

The patient approach benefits Guerrero Jr., who hits the ball hard (over 95 mph) more often than his father.

The results? Guerrero Jr., leads MLB in batting average and is tied for the most home runs at 46 — more than his dad ever hit in a single season. He also leads the AL in on-base percentage (.410) and sits third in walks (82).

"It's just as a pitcher sometimes taking ownership and saying, 'You're not going to beat me. So I'm going to make you chase a pitch that's way out of the zone or else I'm just going to use that open bag to walk you,'" Lawrie, 34, said.

MVP battle

The phenomenal statistical season has Guerrero Jr., firmly in the race for AL MVP.

Just one roadblock: the player in his way, the Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani, is enjoying a better two-way season than Babe Ruth ever did. Ruth led the league in earned-runs average once and in home runs many times, but never combined the feats; his hitting only took off once he mostly stopped pitching.

Ohtani is excelling at both, lurking near Guerrero Jr., for the home-run lead at 44 while sporting a stellar 3.28 ERA over more than 120 innings as a pitcher.

And so even though Ohtani's Angels are well out of the playoff race, the MVP discussion was thought to be easily answered by the player who provides immense value as a hitter and as a pitcher.

Not so fast, says Lawrie.

"I want to be a two-way player, but at the end of the day, I want to win more than that. And cool as it is to be a two-way player and help yourself out, if you're not winning, it's not fun."

Toronto is battling Boston and the New York Yankees for the two final AL playoff spots. The winning teams will then meet in a single-elimination game, with the victor headed to a best-of-five series against the AL team that finishes with the best record — likely division-rival Tampa Bay.

In softball, two-way players are more common than in MLB. Lawrie says she zeroed in on pitching just after college but attempted to return to hitting in 2018 to prepare for the Olympics.

"It just tore my hands up, and blisters, and it was cold. And I just remember thinking, like, 'Kudos for trying here, Danielle.'"

WATCH | Lawrie on closing out bronze-medal victory:

In the end, Lawrie said, it was the time commitment to being great at both things that ended her hitting career.

It's what makes Ohtani's season so special, and why, despite his team's lack of success, he'll likely win the MVP award over Guerrero Jr.

Familial glove

The Blue Jays slugger will then have to settle heaps of meaningful at-bats through the rest of the regular season and potentially the playoffs, while Ohtani plays out the string.

The Blue Jays have been the hottest team in baseball, winning 15 of 19 games thus far in September. It's a long, tough path, but Toronto is a World Series contender.

Guerrero Sr., never won a championship ring during his storied career and only played in the Fall Classic once.

At the all-star game in July, Guerrero Jr., showed up with a glove featuring a picture of him as a child with his dad on the field at Montreal's Olympic Stadium.

Lawrie's Guerrero Jr.-inspired glove. (Submitted by Danielle Lawrie)

Lawrie, who comes from a baseball/softball family herself, was inspired. She contacted the manufacturer, who made her five gloves featuring pictures with her and her two daughters, Madison and Audrey.

Lawrie's consequent social-media post showing her new gear off drew Guerrero Jr.'s attention, who privately messaged Lawrie to tell her he was a fan.

"Not that I fangirl over stuff — my brother [Brett Lawrie] was a baseball guy — I'm not like that at all. It was just like, that's so cool. Like, we both kind of have the same kind of glove," Lawrie said.

From one generation to the next.

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