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Setting the Bar for Success in Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s Debut Season

Given the hoopla surrounding Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s arrival, what would mark an impressive (or disappointing) debut?

All hail, for the day has finally arrived: The Toronto Blue Jays have announced the call-up of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. After years of hype, baseball’s top prospect will finally make his debut on Friday. SI’s Jon Tayler has you covered on what to expect, but, beyond that … what do we want to expect? Vladito is the game’s most anticipated young talent in recent memory; reports of his talent have spread far beyond the normal pool of prospect-hounds and team fans. Everyone knows just how good he is. (See: MLB’s At Bat app sent seven push alerts about him in the two hours after the news was announced. Seven! Including one, literally, just stating he was a cute child, or “adorable sports baby,” in the parlance of the alert. Folks, we passed the previous high-water mark for prospect hype long ago here.) And, yet, with great hype comes great pressure. There’s a high bar here. Baseball was always going to expect a lot from Guerrero, of course—by virtue of his talent, to say nothing of his name, but the anticipation has been mounting for long enough that it’s driven expectations even higher. So what sort of performance would feel “normal” for Vladito? Impressive? Disappointing? 

What The Projections Say

Let’s pull two. From Steamer, hosted at FanGraphs: .308/.373/.519, with 18 HR, for 3.9 WAR. From Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA: .310/.371/.530, with 21 HR, for 3.0 WAR. (And both of these had rather conservative estimates for playing time, so feel free to mentally adjust the accumulative stats slightly upward.) This, to be clear, is rather insane. He is a 20-year-old rookie. For a player seeing major league pitching for the very first time, these projections are wild. And … they don’t feel wrong? Given everything known about Guerrero, there’s nothing to suggest that he isn’t capable of this kind of performance, even right out of the gate. He could finish the season with a .920 OPS and 25 HRs, and it would likely feel just about right, perhaps even a little bit underwhelming. He could finish with a 1.000 OPS and 30 HRs, and it would probably feel the same. After all, we’ve been told—for months—to expect generational greatness! 1.100 OPS and 35 HRs? 1.200 OPS and 40 HRs? Well, he’s Vladito. Isn’t this supposed to be it? 

What Our Crystal Ball Says

So, in this spirit, here are four potential stat lines for his first five games—including how they might hypothetically read in the wake of the hype: 

Game 1: 2-for-4, double; Game 2: 1-for-4, strikeout, walk; Game 3: 0-for-4; Game 4: 3-for-4; Game 5: 1-for-4, home run
This would be a nice start! Truly, it would. And it would feel vaguely empty. Logically, of course, it would be hard to justify this. There would be no acceptable reason to want anything more than this. But you’d want it anyway. Just a little.  

Game 1: 2-for-6, 2 HR; Game 2: 1-for-4, HR; Game 3: 1-for-4, HR; Game 4: 3-for-5, 2 HR; Game 5: 1-for-5 
Statistically, this would be wild. And you know what? It would seem fine. It would be tremendously fun and exciting, sure! Would it be surprising, though? It really might not! 

An aside: Remember Trevor Story’s first five games, back in 2016, when he hit six home runs and everyone absolutely lost it? Remember the entire week when all baseball discourse revolved around Trevor Story? Yeah, this is his stat line from those five games. Here, it might actually seem reasonable—which, really, is the most unreasonable thing of all. 

Game 1: 0-for-4, strikeout; Game 2: 0-for-3, walk; Game 3: 1-for-4; Game 4: 0-for-4, two strikeouts; Game 5: 0-for-4
Oh, the combined energy of the hot takes could fuel a small nation.

Game 1: 4-for-4, 3 HR, double, cures the common cold; Game 2: 4-for-4, 4 HR, unites baseball world in total awe and adoration to receive Nobel Peace Prize; Game 3: 5-for-5, 2 HR, triple, uses postgame interview to reveal true location of the lost city of Atlantis; Game 4: 4-for-4, 2 HR, walk, demonstrates that he can perfectly put a fitted sheet on a bed without any help; Game 5: 6-for-6, 4 HR, MacArthur Genius Grant
Okay. Slightly impressive. And, yet, somewhere out there, a guy wonders if it wouldn’t have probably benefited the organization to give him a little more time in Triple-A.