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Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. regains MLB lead in home runs as he continues to crush the first pitch

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In the third inning of Saturday’s Baltimore Orioles-Toronto Blue Jays tilt in Buffalo, Jays MVP candidate/phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit his majors-leading 26th home run of the season. Here’s a look: 

That’s 403 feet to left center at the expense of a Keegan Akin first-pitch changeup. Guerrero Jr. has now homered in three straight games, and he’s gone yard in four of his last seven games. At this writing, the 22-year-old boasts a 2021 slash line of .341/.444/.685. So, yes, he’s indeed an MVP candidate — perhaps the leading one. 

As mentioned above, Guerrero on Saturday homered on the first pitch of the plate appearance, and that’s in keeping with his approach this season. Consider the following True Internet Facts: 

  • As of his Saturday blast, Guerrero Jr. this season is batting .579/.586/1.105 versus the first pitch. 
  • He’s now homered nine times against the first pitch this season to lead the majors. 
  • Vladdie’s also been pretty aggressive against the first pitch when it comes to volume in 2021. In all, 58 of his plate appearances have been concluded on the first pitch. That leads the majors by a significant margin (teammate Bo Bichette is in second place with 51 such plate appearances). 
  • Relatedly, he’s swinging at the first pitch 41.5 percent of the time this season, which is a career-high rate. For further context, the league-average hitter offers at the first pitch 29 percent of the time. 
  • At the same time, Guerrero is swinging at pitches outside the strike zone just 21.2 percent of the time. That’s a career low, and it’s in the 85th percentile of all MLB hitters. Broadly, yes, he’s swinging more often at the first pitch, but he’s doing so with an increased awareness of his wheelhouse and an awareness of the fact that pitchers are typically in the zone more often on the first pitch.

While Guerrero is not surprisingly crushing first-pitch fastballs (he’s slugging 1.846 — !! — against them), it’s not just a matter of sitting dead red. He’s batting .632 against first-pitch sinkers, which is the second-most common offering he’s seen to start a plate appearance this season. Next in line is the slider, and against first-pitch sliders this season he’s batting .357 and slugging .786. Then comes the changeup, the pitch off which he homered on Saturday. Against that first pitch offering, he was batting .333 and slugging 1.333 before he teed off on Akin’s. He’s 4 for 6 on first pitches not in those previous classifications. 

It’s one thing to say, “don’t throw him a first pitch fastball,” but against Guerrero this season the advice should really be, “don’t throw him a first pitch, full stop.” Unfortunately for American League moundsmen, that’s not really plausible counsel.

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