Can Vlad Guerrero's Return Be a Bad Thing for the LA Angels?
Hey, I love Vladimir Guerrero. He really is the perfect superstar for the 'other' team in LA. You know, the low profile one that has just been winning quietly since 2002. While Manny is busy being Manny (and now that includes making apologies), Vlad just quietly plays baseball.
One reason we never hear from Vlad is that the man never even bothered to learn English well enough to talk to the media. This guy really just wants to play and win, and all the other stuff, well other people can deal with that.
His numbers over his tenure with the Halos have been fantastic. Vlad has never had a season in LA batting below .300 and never fewer than 27 dingers. This guy has consistently produced in a lineup that rarely offered protection, providing the only truly imposing figure on Mike Scioscia's scorecard day in and day out.
And on top of that, until last year, Vlad made an impact defensively with the threat of his cannon arm in right field. All of this is to say that I have loved and appreciated Vlad's great gifts to Angels fans since he arrived in 2004 (at a steal of a price too, by the way).
So why do I feel like Vlad's return to the Angel lineup in a couple of weeks may just be a bad thing for the offense overall?
The one thing we all marvel at about Guerrero has been his ability to hit bad pitches. This trait has been so associated with Vlad, it's as if he is a superhero and this is his particular power. The man can hit balls in the dirt, over his head, two feet outside, in on his fists...he's legendary in this regard.
Vlad's ridiculous physical ability and his sheer strength have allowed him to simply "grip it and rip it", and put up ridiculous numbers along the way. This ability has created Vlad's other famous characteristic: a complete disregard for plate discipline.
Why show patience, or discipline at the plate if you can just gear up for the next pitch and be so quick with the bat that you can hit whatever is thrown your way? Vlad hasn't needed plate discipline simply because he has been so good without it.
But what happens when Vlad's skills diminish, even if just a bit? One thing Vlad is not immune to is the aging process, and we seem to be seeing signs of not only age, but the wear and tear of playing professional baseball for 14 seasons. The result of this is that it is no longer easy for Vlad to just hit the ball wherever it is pitched.
If Vlad returns to the Angels in June with the same approach at the plate, that of swinging early in counts at pitches out of the strike zone, that of not bothering to work himself into hitters counts and waiting for a pitch to drive, I think Vlad becomes a liability rather than an asset.
He simply does not have the skills to drive bad balls anymore. Most people never had that skill. Vlad did, but no longer.
Watching him at the beginning of the season was difficult. In typical fashion, Vlad was swinging at pitches that he should have let go, but unlike in the past, he was unable to do anything with them.
Instead we saw a series of weak pop-ups and grounders, often so early in the count that you could almost hear the pitcher thanking him as he passed the mound on the way back to the dugout.
That just won't cut it, and the Angels don't need to put up with it. They have options. It's hard not to notice how the offense actually started clicking once Vlad landed on the DL. Is any Angels fan excited about seeing Mike Napoli's playing time reduced to only games he catches once Vlad is locked in the DH spot?
This is a guy who is batting .327 and brings the threat of the long ball every time he steps to the plate. Oh, and he also is willing to take a walk, meaning pitchers actually have to throw strikes. That usually works out well for the Halos.
Best case scenario as I see it is that Vlad comes back and tweaks his approach a bit. This guy can still absolutely dominate if he just learns to be selective and make pitchers throw strikes. Hang out with Bobby Abreu a bit. The $5 million the Angels are paying him would be well worth it if he did nothing more than influence Vlad's approach.
If Vlad doesn't adjust and continues to slow down the offense, then as hard as it is to accept, I think the Angels would be better off without him.
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