Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s Epic Season and the Limit of His Triple Crown Run

 Welcome to The Opener, where every morning you will find fresh, topical columns from SI.com's MLB authors to start your day.

Return to the fiery conversation about the 2012 American League MVP.

The debate was between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, and even as it grew a lot, it revolved around a fundamental question: what would it take a player to do something more impressive than the Triple Crown? Cabrera became the first player to achieve this feat in 45 years. But Trout's Rookie Season was excellent enough to present the idea that, perhaps, the traditional glory of the Triple Crown does not automatically bear the resemblance of an MVP. This question aroused a thousand rumors and heated discussions and debates. Yet in the end the vote did not close at all: Cabrera was first listed on 22 of the 28 ballots, indicating that yes, the Triple Crown still had power.

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All that seems almost vague compared to the dimensions of this year’s conversation about AL MVP. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has a very real chance to get the first triple crown after Cabrera. (He is currently leading the batting average while sitting just a few shy in the leader board for home runs and RBI.) But now since 2012 there is a clear answer to the question of what a player would take to do something. More impressive than the Triple Crown: it will take Shohai Ohtani. His awe-inspiring run of two-way splendor has made him a front-runner. His greatness is that he has opened up a possibility that seems unthinkable for most baseball history: perhaps Guerrero will win the Triple Crown and not get the first place vote for the MVP.

But that doesn’t take anything away from Guerrero, whose triumphant, star-hanging season seems like the fulfillment of all the dreams that exist about him.

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Guerrero, now in his third season, has the same cornerstone for his game that he always had: the raw power coming out of his jaw. (Despite everything he has done since, there could not be a better encapsulation of Guerrero's talent than his record-setting home run derby performance as a rookie in 2019.) But this year marks the first time he has been able to consistently translate into gameplay That gift - now carries a slugging percentage of over .600 while its first two seasons didn’t see it crack .500. And that’s one of the many significant improvements he’s made this year.

The most obvious is how much he hits the ball. While it was always clear that he could approach hard - his maximum exit speed was sitting close to the top of the leaderboard in his first two seasons - he could never do that consistently. (Again it appears to just shine instead of a static presence in the game with power.) Now? Its hard-hit rate has increased from its rookie number 39% to 56%. He is driving more line and hitting less ground ball. No one has hit more balls with a speed of 95 miles per hour than Guerrero. And for the first time, it’s a leader in average exit velocity, not just max.

Another major area of ​​improvement is its plate discipline. Its swing percentage is almost the same as it was in its rookie season in 2019 (46.9% to 46.8%). But he’s gotten better at choosing the pitch he’s swinging on, less chasing people outside the zone, and pushing more people inside the zone, and as a result he’s going to walk more. Its strikeout-to-walk ratio, 0.76, is now in the top 10 in MLB.

If on points this year it seems that Guerrero is now one of baseball's best hitters - he has been. You can take the triple crown or leave. Just look at his player card from Baseball Savant.

Vlad Jr. Baseball-Sawant Player Card

Baseball through Sawant

Add to that all of the other changes he's made this year - a reduction this winter, becoming more comfortable on a first base, reducing his defense responsibilities. Guerrero has used all the possibilities predicted for him and then a few things. (To mark the occasion, his Blue Jazz, running an eight-game winning streak, could also make the playoffs: they are now just half a game behind from another wild-card spot.)

Guerrero may not win the MVP, no matter what he does the rest of the way - the Triple Crown, as it turns out, has run into a limit that can't be seen in 2012 - but make no mistake it's a flaw. This is the player's first MVP-caliber season to be a perennial MVP candidate for years to come.

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