At just 22 years old, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is one of the most exciting players in modern MLB history.
The son of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, Guerrero has one of the sweetest swings in baseball. While his first 180 games in the Majors are not quite as dominant as the Toronto Blue Jays would have hoped for, he has gotten off to a productive start. The underlying metrics support a breakout 2021 season for Guerrero as he ranked in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage in 2020. He had the hardest hit ball of 2019 and the third-hardest hit ball of 2020. As soon as Guerrero improves his launch angle, he will be among the best hitters in baseball.
Before making the Toronto roster in 2019, Guerrero was the consensus top prospect in baseball. He had one of the highest hit ratings in the MLB history of prospect scouting, and he projects as a .300 hitter with 30-home run power.
While Guerrero has underachieved relative to the lofty expectations, he projects to be a star. Even with a career 109 OPS+, he is in good company in MLB history. Few players have been as good at such a young age.
One way to analyze such contemporaries its similarity scores, a statistic developed by Bill James in the 1980s. It comes players from across MLB history to other players, and it works for both position players and pitchers.
Similarity scores are purely statistical analyses. To see the comprehensive formula for similarity scores, go to Baseball-Reference.
MLB History: No.1: Dick Kokos
Dick Kokos played five seasons for the St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles from 1948-1950 and 1953-1954. A corner outfielder, Kokos had an OPS+ of 108 across 1,816 career plate appearances. He had an impressive .365 on-base percentage and .806 OPS for his career.
His best two seasons were in 1949 and 1950. He had 259 total hits including 41 home runs. He slashed .261/.363/.453 and had an OPS+ of 108. In 1949, he finished seventh in the AL in doubles and home runs, tallying the fourth-most extra-base hits. He led the AL in putouts, assists, and double plays among right fielders.
No.2: Willie Mays
Willie Mays is an inner-circle Hall of Fame who could have flirted with 700 home runs and 3,500 hits had he not missed over 1.5 seasons with the Korean War. For the 22 seasons that Mays did play, there were few better. He won the 1951 NL Rookie of the Year, and upon returning from the war, won the NL MVP in 1954. He added a second MVP in 1965.
Mays made 24 All-Star teams and won an impressive 12 Gold Gloves in centerfield (most in MLB history). He led the NL in OPS+ in six different seasons, finishing his career with an exceptional 156 OPS+. He won four home run titles, four stolen base titles, and even a batting title in 1954. Perhaps the most stunning accomplishment of Mays’ career was leading the NL in bWAR nine times in 11 seasons. He had six seasons with a bWAR of at least 10.2, a mark only bettered by Babe Ruth.
No.3: Juan Gonzalez
Juan Gonzalez makes his second appearance in a historical contemporaries article. Gonzalez played 17 seasons with four teams, but he spent the majority of his career with the Texas Rangers. With Texas, he won the 1996 and 1998 AL MVPs. He led the AL in home runs twice, in 1992 and 1993. On two occasions, Gonzalez posted an OPS of 1.000, hitting the mark exactly in 1993 and getting to 1.011 in 1996. Gonzalez retired with 434 home runs, hitting 40 in five seasons.
After two years on the Hall of Fame ballot, Gonzalez fell off. He is unlikely to make the Hall of Fame because of steroid allegations and a lack of counting stats (namely 1,936 hits). Gonzalez was one of the better hitters of his generations, but he rarely maintained that success for 150 games in a season.
No.4: Greg Luzinski
Greg Luzinski was a four-time All-Star with the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1970s as a primary left fielder. He was a member of the 1980 World Series roster before heading to the Chicago White Sox for the final three seasons of his career. He posted a career 130 OPS+ and finished in the top 10 of NL MVP voting in all four of his All-Star seasons. In 1975, he led MLB in runs batted in and total bases. Luzinski mashed 307 home runs in his career. He even had success in the playoffs, posted an OPS of 1.065 across four NLCS although he slashed .000/.182/.000 in the 1980 World Series.
Luzinski had a solid MLB career, but he was only able to garner 0.2% of the BBWAA’s vote on the 1990 Hall of Fame ballot.
No.5: Nomar Mazara
An active player, Nomar Mazara has played 579 games for the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox since making his MLB debut in 2016. He finished fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting, but his five seasons have been underwhelming. With Texas, he posted OPS+ of 93, 90, 96, and 96. He mashed 79 home runs with the club, but he was never able to live up to the hype as a consensus top-25 prospect. A primary right fielder, Mazara has been a below-average hitter, base runner, and fielder for his career, never finishing a season with a bWAR above 0.7.
Outside of back-to-back Rookie of the Month Awards to begin his career, Mazara has been a relative disappointment.
No.6: Jason Heyward
Jason Heyward has been a stalwart in right field for the last 11 seasons. An All-Star as a rookie with the Atlanta Braves, Heyward has never quite matched his terrific rookie season. He had an impressive 131 OPS+ and finished second to Buster Posey in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Since 2010, Heyward has been a 101 OPS+ hitter with the Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, and Chicago Cubs. However, he has been an exceptional defensive right fielder, earning five Gold Gloves, but his Gold Glove-earning days are over as Mookie Betts now plays in the National League.
Heyward had his best season since 2010 in 2020. He had an OPS+ of 129, and he nearly posted a .400 on-base percentage. As Heyward enters his age-31 season, he has reasonable expectations to be a good hitter and great fielder for an NL Central-contending Cubs roster.
No.7: Delmon Young
Delmon Young had a roller coaster of a decade in Major League Baseball. He began his career with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, finishing second in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2007. Tampa Bay traded the 2003 No.1 pick in exchange for a package that included Matt Garza in the 2007-2008 offseason, helping the newly-minted Rays to the 2008 AL pennant. Young had the best part of his career with the Minnesota Twins over the next four seasons, posting a 103 OPS+. He bounced around with the 2011-2012 Detroit Tigers, 2013 Philadelphia Phillies, 2013 Tampa Bay Rays, and 2014-2015 Baltimore Orioles.
Despite mixed results in the regular season (98 OPS+), Young was one of the best playoff hitters in recent MLB history. In eight playoff series from 2010 to 2013, Young had five with an OPS above .880 including four of at least 1.040. In particular, Young destroyed the Yankees. In 2010, Young rocked a .885 OPS. In 2011, he had 15 total bases in a mammoth 1.170 OPS series victory. However, 2012 was the peak of his powers as he parlayed a 1.186 OPS and pair of home runs into ALCS MVP.
No.8: Jose Canseco
Jose Canseco had quite the MLB career. In his rookie season with the Oakland A’s, Canseco was an All-Star, and he edged out Wally Joyner for the AL Rookie of the Year. By 1988, Canseco was the unanimous AL MVP after leading the Majors in home runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage, and OPS+. Canseco again led the Majors in home runs in 1991, mashing 44. However, after 1991, Canseco began to slip from being one of the best hitters in baseball. He played several seasons with the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox before making brief stops with the A’s again, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, New York Yankees, and Chicago White Sox.
Canseco retired with 462 home runs, 200 stolen bases, and a sturdy 132 OPS+. He won the World Series with the 1989 A’s and 2000 Yankees. In 2007, he received 1.1% of the Hall of Fame vote.
No.9: Carl Yastrzemski
A career member of the Red Sox, Carl Yastrzemski is one of the most accomplished players in MLB history. He won three batting titles, including the 1967 season that saw him win the Triple Crown. He had 452 home runs and 3,419 hits, ninth in MLB history. Only Pete Rose has played more games than Yastrzemski. He has the third-most at-bats, second-most plate appearances, and ninth-most doubles in MLB history. He is also 10th in total bases, 19th in runs scored, and 14th in RBI.
Yastrzemski won seven Gold Gloves, all in left field. He was the 1967 AL MVP and made 18 All-Star games. He twice had an OPS above 1.040, and he has a career .379 on-base percentage, bolstered by the sixth-most walks in MLB history. His 12.5 bWAR in 1967 is the highest in MLB history by a player not named Ruth.
No.10: Harry Heilmann
Harry Heilmann played for 17 seasons with the Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds. He retired with 2,660 hits and a career .342 batting average. He had an exceptional OPS+ of 148 for his career. Heilmann led the AL in batting four times in seven seasons from 1921 to 1927. He even surpassed the .400 barrier in 1923: .403. He batted in the .390s an additional three times. While the MVP award did not exist for a chunk of Heilmann’s career, he made up for the lost time by earning votes in seven seasons, finishing in the top-five four times.
Primarily a right fielder, Heilmann led the AL in hits in 1921, doubles in 1924, and RBI in 1925. He had a 9.3 bWAR season in 1923, finishing second to Ruth’s otherworldly 14.1 bWAR (most in MLB history).
With three Hall of Fames that had similar trajectories, the future is bright for Guerrero. In a few short seasons, he should be a perennial All-Star and batting crown contender like his father was (15 seasons with a .290 or better batting average).
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