Last year, Vladimir Guerrero looked more like an old Tony Oliva rather than the Montreal stud who stole 40 bases just seven years ago. In a story reported today by Lyle Spencer of MLB.com, Vladimir Guerrero took batting practice today, hit a bunch of line drives and pronounced himself as healthy. If so, that would be good news for the Angels.
It's hard to say if Guerrero is more a victim of years on Montreal's artificial turf or just a modern victim of generic arthritic knees. The one difference between Guerrero's plight and that of Tony Oliva's and Rico Carty's decades earlier is the level of surgery available to today's players. Injuries that would have ended careers just two decades ago can now be handled with modern medicine and new understandings of physical therapy.
The Angels certainly hope so as the Vlad of 2008 was just a shell of the player he was in years past. Though Guerrero still hit .303 with 27 homers, it was his lowest average since 1997 and his rookie year. His OBP was down .20 points from his career average, his Slugging Percentage was off 50 points from his career average and he was only able to play 99 games in the field due to his problems.
Don't get the Fan wrong. A down year for Guerrero is light years ahead of a good year for most other players. What we don't know though, is whether 2008 was the start of a downhill slide or just an off year. Neyer and others like to point out that players regress after the age of 32 and Guerrero is now 33. Time will tell how fast the slide goes or if his surgery will slow down the regression for a few more years.
Guerrero was very positive in the piece and was happy about the acquisition of Bobby Abreu. If Abreu comes close to being on base 40% of the time like usual, then Guerrero will have many more opportunities to drive in runs. That kind of patience has been lacking on the Angels and should benefit the lineup and Guerrero in particular.
Guerrero has been a hidden star for many years and to this point in his career, has slowly built what is heading to be a Hall of Fame career. Whether he reverts back a bit to the crusher he was before 2008 or even with reduced but still positive numbers like last year, Guerrero will be regarded as one of the best players of his time.