What If Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Fails?

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the best baseball prospect in the world. He’s better than most recent #1 overall prospects. He’s the best offensive prospect since at least Kris Bryant (ROY + MVP), and many would say you’d have to go back much further to Miggy or even Pujols to get a true comparison. For some scouts he possesses the seemingly impossible combination of both an 80 grade hit tool and an 80 grade power profile. His batter’s box skills have HOF lineage and yet somehow he has done nothing but exceed expectations (batting .402 in AA at age 19 helps). He already has the look and potential of an all-time great.  Best of all, Vlad, Jr. will debut in 2019.

In fantasy, the hype surrounding Vlad, Jr. is even greater than the anticipated build up for Shohei Ohtani one year ago. In redraft leagues, Vlad, Jr. is being selected above household MLB stars in their prime. In a recent first year auction draft, the Blue Jays wunderkind went for $35. Trading away the Toronto slugger is almost unthinkable in dynasty and keeper leagues, but those bold enough to do so can essentially name their price. As a Vlad, Jr. owner last spring, I put out the APB in one very competitive Ottoneu league and told owners I would move him only if someone guaranteed me a title victory. The opening bid essentially required a league-changing, lopsided exchange of MLB talent. I moved the phenom (with other prospects) for a package that included Jacob deGrom, Freddie Freeman, George Springer, and Craig Kimbrel. I accomplished my goal (league title), but admit a sense of guilt that will only grow as I await his debut in another owner’s lineup this season.

But we’re not just talking hype with Vlad, Jr. The superstar-to-be turns just 20 years old on March 16th and Steamer already projects him to be the 13th best MLB hitter this season by wOBA (.374). In fact, Steamer projects just four MLB hitters to hit .300 or better in 2019, a list that not only includes Vlad, Jr. (.306 AVG), but also stations him at the very top, above MVP’s Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, and then Daniel Murphy. He’s one of 21 players to be projected for an OBP of .370 or higher, and one of only 23 hitters projected to slug .500 or better. His projected .879 OPS is significantly higher than his father’s rookie debut (.833). His 10 year projections look silly.  This is all just a long way of saying Vladdy, Jr. can do it all.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this special prospect is that we all expect greatness to come immediately. Vlad, Jr. feels like an IPO without risk. Unlike every other rookie in the world, it appears failure isn’t an option here. The floor is too high, the skills are too sharp, and the situation too perfect to expect anything but instant prospect gratification.

But what if Vladimir Guerrero Jr. fails?

Because it’s what he does, I’ve helped Vlad, Jr’s further exceed expectations by pushing his 2019 Steamer projection (.306/.368/.511/.879 and .374 wOBA over 124 games) into that near perfectly balanced rotisserie mark of .300/.400/.500.  It wasn’t hard (only had to add ~20 BB’s), and his new line translates into a .385 wOBA. The goal was to determine where this elite skill ranks in the context of fantasy play for 2019 (age 20).  The chart below shows how many MLB hitters (minimum 500 PA) met or exceeded these elite standards over the past ten seasons, with the last column an indicator used in many Ottoneu leagues for individual offensive production.

Vlad, Jr. – Elite Expectations
YEAR .300/.400/.500 .385 wOBA 6.7 P/G
2009 4 16 16
2010 5 16 10
2011 5 16 13
2012 3 12 11
2013 4 13 10
2014 2 9 8
2015 4 10 10
2016 3 13 17
2017 7 19 20
2018 4 9 12
“P/G” = Points per Game, a player performance indicator from Ottoneu’s FanGraphs Points scoring format roughly equivalent to a .385 wOBA

A few takeaways:

  1. With the exception of 2017 (7), a .300/.400/.500 line is a top five, elite player in roto formats (ignoring speed).  While this is probably obvious, this puts Vlad, Jr. almost immediately among the very best hitters in the game, so the hype seems more than justified.  There just aren’t many hitters (ever) that have the skill set to hit for a high average, get on base, and hit with power at the level Vlad, Jr. is expected to do so.
  2. In OBP and OPS leagues where wOBA can be a shortcut, Vlad also shows up as a top notch player, but top 15-20 is probably a more realistic expectation for 2019. While this is still almost unprecedented as a young 2o year old, it helps to establish a more grounded expectation for what we could potentially see in a breakout rookie season.
  3. In some Ottoneu leagues, where “Points per Game” can be an effective historical proxy across offensive seasons, Vlad, Jr. also shows up as near elite, a borderline top 12 starting player.  For quick comparison, this looks a little like Freddie Freeman last season (.309/..388/.509, or 6.6 P/G).  He looks every bit the dynasty-making building block most teams covet.

While some of this is wish-casting, few prospect hitters have ever combined less risk with more hype than Vladimir Guerrero Jr.  That said, baseball is hard, and we’re reminded of that fact almost every prospect season.

The only thing Vladdy, Jr. could fail this year is our expectation of Vladdy, Jr., which seems unfair.  I grew up watching his father and there was a sense of awe and joy watching him swing at a baseball.  If the two are anything alike, the son will undoubtedly become one of the most watched at bats in MLB by the summer.  Just remember to go easy on him if for some reason we happen to all have a front row seat to the first occasional struggles of his career.  Expect him to be all smiles throughout.

What are your expectations?

We hoped you liked reading What If Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Fails? by Trey Baughn!

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Trey is a 20 year fantasy veteran and a five time Ottoneu champion, including the 2015 winner of the Ottoneu Champions League. He currently administers the Ottoneu community, a network of ~1,000 fantasy baseball and football fans. More resources here: http://community.ottoneu.com

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