Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning you’ll receive an up-to-date and current column to kick off the day from one of the MLB writers at SI.com.
Get back, so to speak, to the fiery conversation about the 2012 AL MVP.
The debate was between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, and although it became much more, it revolved around a fundamental question: What would it take for a player to do something more impressive than a Triple Crown? Cabrera had become the first player to achieve the achievement in 45 years. But Trout’s rookie season was momentous enough to introduce the idea that perhaps the traditional glory of a Triple Crown didn’t have to automatically equal an MVP. The question generated a thousand columns, hot takes and discussions. However, the vote was not closed at all at the end: Cabrera was included in first place in 22 of the 28 votes, which shows that, yes, there was still power in the Triple Crown.
All of which seems almost quaint compared to the parameters of this year’s AL MVP conversation. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has a very real chance of landing the first Triple Crown since Cabrera. (He currently leads in batting average while ranking just a few spots below the top spots on the leaderboards in home runs and RBIs.) But now there’s an obvious answer to that 2012 question about what it would take for a player to do something. more impressive than the Triple Crown: it would take Shohei Ohtani. His impressive streak of two-way splendor has made him a favorite. His greatness is such that it opened up a possibility that would have seemed almost unthinkable for most of baseball history: Guerrero is perhaps equally likely to win the Triple Crown and not receive a single first-place vote for MVP.
But that doesn’t take anything away from Guerrero, whose triumphant, star-studded season feels like the fulfillment of every dream that existed about him as a prospect.
Guerrero, now in his third season, has the same cornerstone to his game that he has always had: his astonishing raw power. (Even with everything he’s done since then, yet It might not be a better synthesis of Guerrero’s talent than his record-breaking Home Run Derby performance as a rookie in 2019). .600 when his first two seasons never saw him break .500. And that’s just one of several notable improvements it has made this year.
Among the most obvious is the force with which you hit the ball. While it was always clear that he could making strong contact – his top speed of exit was near the top of the leaderboard in each of his first two seasons – he had never been able to do it consistently. (Again, with that power appearing only in flashes rather than as a constant presence in the game.) Now? His hard hit rate has increased from his rookie number from 39% to 56%. It is connecting more lines and fewer vehicles. No one has hit more balls with a muzzle velocity greater than 95 mph than Guerrero. And for the first time, it’s a leader in average, not just maximum, muzzle velocity.
Another key area for improvement is your plate discipline. His swing percentage is almost exactly the same as it was in his rookie season in 2019 (46.9% to 46.8%). But he’s gotten a lot better at targeting the pitches he swings at, chasing those out of the zone less and hitting those in the zone more, and as a result he’s getting a lot more walks. His strikeout-to-walk ratio, 0.76, is now in the top 10 in MLB.
If it feels at some point this year that Guerrero is now among the best hitters in baseball, it has been. You can take or leave the Triple Crown. Just look at your Baseball Savant player card.
Add to all that the myriad of other changes you’ve made this year: losing weight this winter, feeling more comfortable at first base, making your defense less of a risk. Guerrero has taken advantage of all the potential that was predicted for him, and something more. (To commemorate the occasion, his Blue Jays, on an eight-game winning streak, could even make the playoffs – they’re now just half a game away from second wild-card spot.)
Guerrero won’t win the MVP, regardless of what he does the rest of the way; the Triple Crown, it seems, has hit a limit that could not be seen in 2012, but do not mistake it for a deficiency. . This is the first season with the MVP caliber of a player who will be a perennial MVP candidate for years to come.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.