To say that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has had an underwhelming season is, itself, an underwhelming statement.
Guerrero’s 116 OPS+ isn’t bad, exactly; it’s 16 percent better than the Major League average. But it’s hardly what would be expected from a player who just two years ago, at 22, mashed 48 homers and looked for all the world like he’d be spending the next decade-plus laying waste to any pitcher foolish enough to challenge him in the zone.
Worse, because he’s a below-average runner and fielder – another area that’s taken a step back this year – the just-OK bat has contributed to a not-OK season. One version of WAR has him at 0.4, the other says 1.1, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter which is “right.” Neither is great. Neither is even good. It’s a big part of why the Jays hold just the third Wild Card spot, and only barely that.
Yet most confounding about Guerrero’s season is this: He’s not striking out more than he did in his magical 2021 (his strikeout rate is a similar 15% in each season). He’s not putting the ball on the ground too much, as he has at times in the past (his ground ball rate of 47% isn’t 2021’s 45%, but it is the second-lowest of his career). And he’s not, by any means at all, failing to hit it hard. If anything, it’s the opposite: His hard-hit rate is in the 96th percentile, and only Ronald Acuña Jr. has more hard-hit balls overall. In June, he actually had the second-best hard-hit month of his career.
Everything says that this is a player who should be excelling, but it’s just not happening. So what’s wrong? How does a player this young (notable 2023 rookies he’s younger than include James Outman, Josh Jung, and Spencer Steer) with this recent history of success and without any of the obvious hitting red flags you’d look for struggle this much?
There’s no shortage of theories, as you might expect. Blue Jays fans provided us with their best guesses. Let’s see which ones hold water.
Theory 1: It’s bad luck.
“Bad luck” is typically an easy first place to look, though it rarely holds up as well as you’d think. In this case, it’s not hard to see why it comes up for Guerrero. Statcast creates “expected” stats based on the quality of contact and how much contact is made, and basically no one in the game is under-performing by as much as Guerrero is.
Basically, what’s being said there is that while his quality of contact isn’t quite as good as it was in 2021, it’s not all that far off, either. Yet the results are not.
But what does “bad luck” mean? Sometimes, it means getting robbed by great plays, though that doesn’t seem to be the case here. He’s hit just one non-homer ball that would have been out of at least 20 other parks. Instead, the reason that Guerrero isn’t finding the success you’d think is that all of the expected stats are based on quality of contact (based on how hard you hit it, at this angle, this outcome usually happens, etc.) and for him, something is happening between that great contact and uninspiring outcome – and it might not be luck.
Theory 2: He’s not hitting the ball as far as you’d think given how hard he’s hitting it.
When he barrels the ball up – a barrel being the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle, which in the Majors in 2023 leads to a .737 average and 2.467 slugging, i.e. “really incredible production” – he’s hitting those crushed baseballs an average of 365 feet. It’s well below the MLB average of 385 feet; it’s the second-shortest of hundreds of players who have at least 10 such batted balls; it’s by far the shortest of his career.
It’s something without a clear explanation, though it’s particularly afflicting him on the hardest-hit balls. When he hits barrels 110 mph or harder — elite, obviously, exit velocity — he’s down an astounding 47 feet from 2021.
That’s a lot of homers that become singles, or outs, and sometimes it feels like you can even see the ball just bending downwards. It feels like sometimes he’s hitting the ball so hard that topspin is dragging it down, though there’s not data to confirm or refute that currently.
While it’s popular to say that he’s not pulling the ball in the air enough, which we’ll get to in a second, that seems to be an oversimplification, because he’s A) pulling those high-value barrels more than he did in 2021, and B) getting less distance on his pulled barrels (352 feet) than he is towards center field (379 feet) or opposite field (358 feet). He’s lost dozens of feet of distance just on pulled barrels, which makes it hard to say “do that more.”
This is one way to underperform those expected stats beyond “bad luck,” because in theory he’s the one making this happen. But how? Why is this happening?
Theory 3: He’s pulling it too much, or not enough, or not exactly the right amount.
This one came up a lot, mostly in association with complaints about hitting coaches – as though Guillermo Martinez wasn’t also the coach in 2021 when Guerrero shined (he was) or that Martinez wasn’t still the coach last year and this year when Bo Bichette came out of a long rut in 2022 to shine late and into this season (he was, and is).
The Jays have the fourth-lowest pull rate, which sounds bad, but there’s not a great relationship between that and success; two of the teams below them are weak offenses (Cleveland, Miami), yet also there’s the high-scoring Rangers. Oakland has the third-highest pull rate, which tells you something. What matters is pulling the ball in the air – this is where success is – yet the Jays have the ninth-most such balls this year.
Guerrero’s pull rate is down slightly, but on balls in the air, he is pulling 27% of them, down massively from 2021’s … 28%. Besides, at his best, Guerrero is such a strong all-fields hitter that he’s never needed to sell out for power in this way. Just look at what his 2021 spray chart looked like.
It’s probably not this, at least not as much as people want it to be. It’s more about what happens when he does pull than about how often it happens.
Theory 4: He was only ever good in Minor League parks.
That wonderful 2021, remember, came when the Blue Jays split their season between Dunedin, Buffalo, and finally Toronto. Guerrero torched Dunedin (11 homers and a 1.418 OPS in 21 games), and he crushed Buffalo (10 homers and a 1.180 OPS in 23 games).
If the argument is that he abused Minor League parks and then didn’t maintain a pace that would have been 38 homers over a full home slate (or 76 homers over 162), then that is absolutely correct. The friendly parks likely fueled his final 2021 line above and beyond where it might have otherwise been. (If, of course, we ignore the massive disruption to the lives of players and their families, which no other club had to the same extent.)
But that still underrates how good he was that year, and likely overstates what’s happening in 2023. In Toronto two years ago, he had an excellent .926 OPS, which is 244 points higher than he has in Canada this year – a fact which has little to do with Minor League parks. (If he had a .926 OPS in Toronto this year, there would be no problems.) On the road in 2021 before they returned to Toronto, he had a .909 OPS. Maybe the lower-level parks helped a little, but they don’t come close to explaining 2023.
Instead, we can point out two things about that time. First, it wasn’t just the small distances or warm weather. In Dunedin, it was the absolute mashing of baseballs — his home field quality of contact during that stretch was by far the best in the sport. In Buffalo, and in Toronto, the quality of contact was identical, and each more “extremely good” than “out-of-this-world elite.”
But in Buffalo, he overperformed by nearly 60 points of weighted on-base, which is a lot, though many other hitters did so by more during that span. Yet in 2021 in Toronto, he underperformed by nearly 40 points, which is hardly out of line with what anyone else did in that span.
Which leads us into our next theory …
Theory 5: He dislikes the new Rogers Centre dimensions.
This might be nothing, but it’s at least worth noting how odd this is. Rogers Centre had always leaned towards the hitter-friendly side of things, but last winter’s renovations were expected to be neutral at worst and very possibly add some homers.
Instead, Guerrero didn’t hit his first home run at home until June 23. His season splits look like this.
A .682 OPS is unacceptable for a bat-first player like Guerrero; it is essentially light-hitting Chicago outfielder Andrew Benintendi. But an .862 OPS? That’s Austin Riley, or J.D. Martinez. Road Vlad isn’t quite the 2021 version, but if Home Vlad was hitting like Road Vlad is, Blue Jays fans wouldn’t be nearly so frustrated.
So what’s happening here? There’s little difference in hard-hit rate or strikeout rate. The swing and chase rates are identical. The quality of contact is a little better on the road than home, but not by much. There’s some BABIP difference, sure, but basically this comes down to the value of the eight home runs – which is at least a little related to the fact that he really is elevating and pulling more away from Canada.
It might also just be a partial-season fluke. It’s hardly afflicting the entire lineup – Alejandro Kirk, George Springer, and Kevin Kiermaier have all been better at home than away – and it’s not even a notably large home/road split in the context of the Majors this year. (Aaron Judge, incredibly, has the largest “better on the road” split.) Plus, before this season, Guerrero slugged an identical .474 both at home (Toronto only) and on the road. It’s something to keep an eye on. It might not be more than that.
Theory 6: It’s lack of protection.
This came up enough that we’ll at least address it, but: It’s not this. In 2021, Guerrero mostly hit ahead of Teoscar Hernandez or Bo Bichette. In 2022, the lineup was in enough flux that he didn’t have a “regular” hitter behind him, with Kirk filling the role more than anyone. This year has been similar: He’s variously hit ahead of Matt Chapman, Daulton Varsho, Brandon Belt and Springer, who have each been variously hot or cold at different times.
Aside from the fact that many studies have been done over the years that suggest that lineup protection doesn’t manifest in the way tradition would have you believe – mostly because if the point is to not walk a lesser hitter ahead of a good hitter, why pitch to the lesser hitter in a way that makes him a better hitter? – the specifics of this case don’t match up. Guerrero isn’t seeing fewer pitches in the zone than in 2021; he’s seeing more. It doesn’t address the weird home/road split, or the gap between his actual and expected contact. Besides, Chapman, Belt and Springer are established veterans behind him who are hardly Minor League fill-ins.
It’s almost certainly not this. It’s never this.
Theory 7: He’s injured or not in peak condition.
In March, Guerrero injured his right knee, which was enough to force him to withdraw from the World Baseball Classic, but not enough to prevent him from getting off to a long-forgotten outstanding start, hitting .318/.389/.530 through May 5. He was then a late scratch with left wrist discomfort, and didn’t play again until May 9. Ever since, he’s hit only .244/.322/.398.
Compelling! And yet: A potential lingering injury didn’t prevent him from winning the 2023 T-Mobile Home Run Derby in July. It hasn’t stopped all those hard-hit numbers from piling up. It hasn’t stopped him from hitting better on the road since then. We couldn’t possibly rule on this with certainty one way or another, but it’s not more than circumstantial at this point.
It’s worth noting, though, that Guerrero’s sprint speed has dropped from the 45th percentile in 2021 to the 26th this year, with a decline in his defensive metrics as well. Not that speed ever is or was his game, but leading into 2021, Guerrero was quite open about the work he’d put into conditioning, in an attempt to make his swing more repeatable. “When he was fatigued,” Guillermo Martinez had said in 2020, “it caused him to search for more power, which caused him to jump at the baseball.” Speed might be a proxy, in this case.
Theory 8: He’s behind on the fastball.
It’s difficult to investigate all this and not realize what’s happened on four-seam fastballs.
There might be something to this. In 2023, he’s taking the four-seamer to the opposite field more than ever, when 2021 it was the least ever. In 2023, he’s pulling four-seamers just 17% of the time, a career low, and by a lot, especially when you consider that in the big year two years ago, it was 30%. He’s also swinging and missing a lot more against four-seamers, too.
There’s a little more movement towards him on those four-seamers, and when he does pull those fastballs, he’s down more than 200 points of slugging. But perhaps most concerning is what happens on the edges of the zone, an area where he’s taken a huge step back since 2021. That year, he had eight homers on four-seamers on the edges. This year: He’s got eight hits.
It’s incredibly difficult to know if this is about approach, any lingering wrist issue, or anything else. But it’s at the heart of the problem.
Theory 9: He’s not adjusting to changing pitches or his approach is poor.
It’s not just fastballs, though. He’s down considerably on sliders, too, which can’t be a coincidence.
“I just think it comes down to location,” Toronto manager John Schneider said on MLB Network Radio’s “Power Alley” this week. “It’s pretty apparent how teams are attacking him with fastballs in and especially down in the zone. Part of it comes down to pitch selection, and timing. When he gets it in the location he can really hammer it, that’s when we see the results we’re accustomed to.”
Guerrero is swinging more, a career high 52%, up from his usual 48%. He’s chasing a lot more than he did in 2021 (up from 24% to 30% is a big deal; that’s above-average to below-average) but not more than he did in 2022. On the other hand, he’s a lot more aggressive on the first pitch … right back to where he was in 2021.
Theory 10: He is who he is, and 2021 was just a fluke season.
It’s possible for a great hitter to have one all-time year that they never manage to repeat. Bryce Harper had that year, at 22 years old in 2015, when he hit 42 homers with a 198 OPS+, and while he’s had a run of good to very good years since – including 2021, when he won another MVP Award – he’s yet to have another 40-homer season or match that 2015 since.
Maybe that was what Vlad’s 2021 was — it’s indeed difficult to expect endless years that tremendous. But even so, that doesn’t explain why his 2023 looks like this, and not like his solid-enough 2022 (when he had 32 homers with a 133 OPS+).
Theory 11: Maybe it’s all of it.
Setting aside our favorite remaining theory – that he misses the home run jacket that the club retired before this season – the incredibly frustrating answer seems to be that there isn’t an answer, or, if we choose to be optimistic, that something like better pitch selection and getting your timing back doesn’t seem to be something insurmountable.
In some ways, this would be easier to accept if he were clearly injured, or if he couldn’t make contact, or couldn’t make good contact. None of that seems to be the case. Guerrero Jr. is, in some ways, a victim of the high bar he has set for himself. The good news, at least, is that the core talent still seems to exist. There’s a better version of Vlad Jr. still in there, the one all Jays fans are waiting on. He is after all, still only 24 years old.
Garnacho on target as United beats Crystal Palace in League Cup defence
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Seven months after lifting the trophy, Manchester United made a successful start to its defense of the English League Cup on Tuesday by beating Crystal Palace 3-0.
Alejandro Garnacho and Casemiro fired the holders into a 2-0 first-half lead at Old Trafford and Anthony Martial added a third after the break in the third-round match.
It is now back-to-back wins for Erik ten Hag’s team, which has endured a disappointing start to the season.
The dominant performance against an understrength Palace followed Saturday’s narrow victory at Burnley and will give United fans hope the team has turned its form around.
“The mood is always good, but of course when you are not winning at United there is disappointment, and there is frustration, but the togetherness is always there,” Ten Hag said. “We know we are not now in the position where we want to be. So we have to build up, we have to catch up and then you have to go from game to game, working on the process and working on the results. Don’t get too far ahead.”
The League Cup ranks fourth among English soccer’s most important trophies. But Ten Hag still savored last season’s success.
Victory against Newcastle in February’s final at Wembley Stadium ended the club’s six-year wait for a trophy and saw Ten Hag deliver silverware in his first season at the club. He went on to also reach the FA Cup final, only to lose to Manchester City, and also guided United back into the Champions League to mark an impressive campaign.
Things have not gone so well this term, with his team losing four out of five games before beating Burnley 1-0.
This latest victory was far more convincing, even if Palace benched regular starters Marc Guehi, Eberechi Eze and Joachim Anderson and was also without forward Odsonne Edouard.
Ten Hag also made changes with Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Rasmus Hojlund on the bench and Christian Eriksen absent.
Mason Mount, however, made his first appearance since Aug. 19 after returning from an injury.
Garnacho fired United ahead in the 21st minute after converting Diogo Dalot’s cutback in the box.
His low shot had too much power for Palace goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, who had only just come on as a substitute for the injured Dean Henderson.
Johnstone was tested again moments later when Dalot blasted an effort from an angle, which the keeper blocked.
He was beaten again, however, in the 27th, this time by Casemiro, who headed in Mount’s corner to double United’s lead.
Martial added a third 10 minutes into the second half when firing across goal after meeting Casemiro’s looping ball to the far post.
United plays Palace again in the Premier League on Saturday and the Londoners showed their threat when twice forcing saves from ‘keeper Andre Onana later in the match. But manager Roy Hodgson did not sound confident about securing a different outcome when the teams next meet.
“We are going to have to become a totally different team in the way we approach the game and the way we play the game,” he said.
Third-division Exeter produced a shock 1-0 win against Luton to knock the Premier League club out of the competition. Luton made 10 changes from the team that picked up its first topflight point of the season against Wolverhampton on Saturday, but the result will still go down as a big upset. Demetri Mitchell scored the winner in the 83rd, but Exeter had to see out the game with 10 men after he was sent off in the 88th.
Wolverhampton was also eliminated after throwing away a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 at second-division Ipswich. Hwang Hee-Chan and Toti Gomes had seemingly put the visitors on course for the next round after goals inside the first 15 minutes. But Omari Hutchinson, Freddie Ladapo and Jack Taylor sealed a comeback win for Ipswich.
Burnley is still waiting for its first win in the league this season, but it is powering on in the cup after a 4-0 win against Salford City, the fourth division club co-owned by Manchester United greats including David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville.
Elsewhere, Middlesbrough beat Bradford 2-0 and Port Vale won 2-1 against Sutton United.
Fourth-division Mansfield beat third-division Peterborough 3-1 on penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw in regulation time. Lucas Akins’ penalty to even the score in the 93rd had sent the game to a shootout.
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer
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How to Spot a Trustworthy Online Casino in Canada
Spotting a trustworthy online casino isn’t hard once you know what to look for, but until then, you better hold off on signing up or making a deposit. This quick guide on how to find a reputable online casino will cover five different factors you can evaluate to determine whether or not a casino is trustworthy. While you could just use a site like the trusted source WikiHow that lists the best online casinos Canada, it does help to be able to evaluate the trustworthiness of casinos on your own. Likewise, you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet. Casino review sites are a great resource, but it doesn’t hurt to also do a little digging of your own. Without further delay, here’s a quick and easy guide on how to spot a trustworthy online casino.
Checking for Proper Licensing and Regulation
One of the first things you should do when assessing the trustworthiness of the best online casinos Canada is to check for proper licensing and regulation. Reputable online casinos are licensed by recognized regulatory bodies such as the Malta Gaming Authority, the UK Gambling Commission, or the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority. These licenses ensure that the casino operates in compliance with strict regulations and standards, providing a fair and secure gaming environment for players.
Never play at a casino that does not have a license or whose license is unverifiable. The easiest way to verify a license is to head to the licensor’s website and cross-check their registry with the name of the casino you’re looking at. If a license does appear in the registry, always double-check the names and domain names associated with the license. Some scam sites use domains that look similar to real casinos and act as if they are operating under their license. When in doubt, head to the URL listed on the license you find in the registry to be sure that you’re at the right site.
Evaluating the Casino’s Security Measures
Examining the Casino’s Game Selection
Game selection is another important factor to consider when choosing from the best online casinos Canada. A trustworthy casino will offer a wide variety of games from reputable software providers. Look for popular titles from well-known developers such as Microgaming, NetEnt, and Playtech. Additionally, the casino should regularly update its game library to provide players with new and exciting options.
Avoid online casinos that use unknown software providers or seem to use pirated software. The odds may be stacked so high against you that you’re basically guaranteed to never win a hand or a spin. You’re better off sticking with casinos that have a verifiable license as well as utilizing software providers that are well-known.
Verifying the Casino’s Customer Support
Good customer support is essential for a positive online casino experience. A trustworthy casino will have a responsive and knowledgeable support team available to assist you with any queries or concerns. Look for casinos that offer multiple support channels, such as live chat, email, and telephone. Additionally, check for the casino’s operating hours to ensure that support is available when you need it. You should also try and give their customer support a test run. By simply asking their 24/7 Live Chat simple questions about the site, you can get a feel for their response time and overall knowledge. Sites with poor customer service will often take a long time to connect to an agent and be unable to answer even the simplest of queries.
Looking for Fair and Transparent Bonus Terms
Bonuses and promotions are a common feature of online casinos, but it’s important to carefully review the terms and conditions associated with these offers. A trustworthy casino will have fair and transparent bonus terms, clearly outlining the wagering requirements, maximum bet limits, and any other conditions that apply. Avoid casinos that have overly restrictive or confusing bonus terms, as this may indicate a lack of transparency.
In conclusion, when looking for a trustworthy online casino, it’s important to consider factors such as proper licensing and regulation, security measures, game selection, customer support, and bonus terms. By taking the time to evaluate these aspects, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable gaming experience. Remember to always gamble responsibly and set limits for yourself to avoid any potential issues.
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