Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Guerrero Calls it a Career

Vlad was a flashy player and lethal hitter throughout his 16 year career
More than two years after his last game, Vladimir Guerrero officially retired yesterday at the age of 39.

Guerrero, who last played for the Baltimore Orioles in 2011 (not counting his 2012 minor league tryout with Toronto), signed a one-day contract so he could retire as a member of the Angels. Fittingly, he threw out their ceremonial first pitch yesterday to new Angels hitting coach Don Baylor, who broke his right leg while receiving the toss and had to be carried off the field (that can't be a good sign if you're an Angels fan).

That moment, bizarre and unfortunate as it was, doesn't look so out of place with the rest of Guerrero's career, which was generally beyond explanation and on many occasions seemed to defy belief.

A notorious bad-ball hitter, Guerrero never saw a pitch he didn't like. For mere mortals, that kind of swing-at-everything approach would lead to a lot of weak contact and ugly strikeouts. Not Guerrero who had an uncanny ability to make consistent, quality contact and hit the ball with authority. His off-the-charts hand-eye coordination allowed him to reach pitches most men could never dream of hitting, and his natural strength allowed him drive those pitches into the gaps and over the fence. His swing was vicious, but it was also a thing of beauty. It was controlled aggression.

Guerrero was like Roberto Clemente with power. He batted .318/.379/.553 in his 16 year career, blending power (449 home runs) with speed (181 stolen bases). He hit above .300 every year from 1997 through 2008 and never hit below .290, save for his nine game cameo at the end of the 1996 season. It shocks me that Guerrero never won a batting title despite batting over .320 seven times and hitting as high as .345 one year).

He always seemed to get the bat on the ball. Guerrero never struck out 100 times in any season and topped 90 only once--in 1998, his first full season. After 2001, he never even struck out 80 times in a single season. Vlad came to the plate more than 9,000 times and fanned fewer than 1,000, an exceptional ratio for a slugger.

Vlad the Impaler won eight Silver Slugger awards and was one of the most feared hitters of his era, a modern day Jim Rice. He led the league in intentional walks five times and his career total of 250 ranks fifth all-time, behind only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Albert Pujols, Willie McCovey. Pitchers couldn't pitch around him because he could expand the strike zone and still do damage. They didn't know what to do with him.

As a baserunner and outfielder Guerrero can best be described as erratic. He had good speed in his early years, twice going 30/30 and falling one home run shy of a 40/40 season in 2002, but he was successful in less than 66 percent of his stolen base attempts. He was caught 20 times in 2002--most in the majors--and didn't steal much after that as age and wisdom forced him to be less aggressive on the basepaths.

He was a poor, error prone outfielder despite his Clemente-esque cannon for an arm. Though he led the league in right field assists three times and racked up 126 in his career, he gave up just as many outs with his mistakes. He led the league in errors by a right fielder nine times and his career total of 125 is fifth-most. He made daring throws and often overthrew his intended targets.

In spite of his flaws, Guerrero is still Hall of Fame worthy. He maintained a .980 OPS (151 OPS+) and averaged 35 home runs and 114 RBI per season from 1998 through 2007 when he was one of the ten best position players in baseball. He drew MVP votes in 12 different seasons, winning the award in 2004 and finishing third twice. His 2,590 hits are the most of any Dominican player, and he was one of the game's most popular players throughout his career. To my knowledge he has never been linked to PEDs.

JAWs estimates Guerrero's career value was about the same as Ichiro Suzuki's (a slam dunk, probable first ballot Hall of Famer) and just a hair below Dave Winfield's (a first ballot inductee). His most similar batter is Jeff Bagwell, who should have been elected already but is being kept out because of unfounded steroid suspicions. Like Bagwell, Guerrero won't get in on the first try, but both deserve to get in and will be inducted eventually.

3 comments:

  1. Loved watching him play, just his bare-hands gripping a wood bat and ready to do damage. Seemed like a good guy too.

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  2. Yeah very old-school. His playing style definitely belonged in an earlier era

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  3. pujols(winfield)fan#5August 20, 2014 at 9:20 PM

    Really similar to Dave Winfield? Just about everything I learned about baseball that you can't learn by looking at Baseball-Reference came from his book "The Complete Baseball Player", written by his own experiences, not to mention his own all-star squad giving pointers on each position, including HOFers Johnny Bench, Ozzie Smith, and Kirby Puckett. Vladi putting up numbers close to Dave's is all I need, since Dave is my favorite player not named Albert Pujols.

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