Impact: Vlad Lands in Birdland

It took a while, but Vladimir Guerrero has finally found a home for the 2011 season. He’ll take over DH duties for the Baltimore Orioles, pushing Luke Scott to left-field and pushing aside any hopes of sleeper value from Felix Pie or Nolan Reimold.

The first thing that jumps out to me about Guerrero’s 2010 season is the huge disparity between his pre-all-star numbers and his post-all-star numbers. Vlad hit .319/.364/.554 with 20 home runs in 323 pre-all-star at-bats, but only .278/.322/.426 with nine home runs in 270 post-all-star at-bats. I’ve never put too much weight on first half/second half splits because baseball is a grind full of ups and downs. In the end, the numbers are what they are. I’m sure any fantasy owner would have taken Vlad’s .300/.345/.496, 29 HR, 83 R, 115 RBI line if they were told that was what they would get on draft day, no matter if the bulk of it came in the first half (This is a bit different for head-to-head leagues, of course).

Going from Texas to Baltimore ensures that Vlad will still play his home games in an advantageous ballpark for hitters. This factor makes me feel good about another 20-plus home run season, though I would wager that he ends up closer to 25 than 30 in 2011.

What has always concerned me about Vlad’s long-term value is his approach at the plate, which is not just see it, hit it, but rather if you see it (at all), swing at it (no matter where it’s pitched). One of the biggest factors in a hitters decline is a regression in bat speed. We’ve seen this a bit in Manny Ramirez in recent seasons. However, I believe that Vlad will be even more susceptible to a sharp decline due to his hacking ways.

Last season, Vlad swung at pitches outside the strike-zone a whopping 47 percent of the time, which was the highest chase rate of his career. However, this isn’t exactly new information when it comes to Vlad’s approach. He has been successful for years chasing anything and everything because of his incredible ability to make solid contact even when he does expand the zone. My concern is how much longer he will be able to sustain such good results on such bad pitches. Once his bat slows, his timing on these pitches will be off and likely result in weaker contact. That would result in a regression in line drive rate and a possible jump in infield pop-ups, both of which would lower the probability of him hitting for a high AVG.

I’m not saying with certainty that Vlad’s bat will slow to the point where this becomes an issue in 2011, but that’s where I do see some considerable risk.

Fantasy GM’s should add that bit of caution to their view of the 36-year-old Vladimir Guerrero on draft day 2011, but he’s certainly not a player to avoid all together. Head-to-head leagues should approach him with a bit more caution, as his age could become an issue come playoff time, as it did in 2010.