Dynasty Inspection: Alex Verdugo

The Boston outfielder is breaking out.

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Fair or unfair, Alex Verdugo will always be linked to Mookie Betts. Back in February 2020, Verdugo, along with prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong, was sent by the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Boston Red Sox for Mookie Betts and David PriceWhenever an organization trades its best player, there is seemingly increased pressure on the main pieces of the return to perform at a high level.

We’re barely over 80 games into Verdugo’s career with Boston and so far he’s just done that. Actually, in 2021, he’s been better than Betts. We’re only in mid-May, so it’s a small sample and there is still a lot of baseball to be played, but it’s clear that Verdugo is an above-average stick and that the soon-to-be-25-year-old has made some improvements at the plate.


The Player


The Dodgers selected Verdugo in the second round of the 2014 draft with the 62nd overall pick. Verdugo came straight out of high school where he was a two-way player, also excelling on the mound with a three-pitch arsenal. Interestingly, many at the time actually expected Verdugo’s future to be as a pitcher, not an outfielder, but there were beliefs that Verdugo preferred to be drafted as a hitter. It’s possible that if Verdugo was drafted in today’s day-and-age, his versatility would have boosted his draft stock. Either way, the Dodgers were more intrigued by his offensive profile and selected him to be an outfielder.

It didn’t take much time for Verdugo to showcase his hitting abilities. Across two Rookie levels in 2017, the lefty batted .353/.421/.511 in 54 games and he walked more than he struck out. The success didn’t stop there for Verdugo as he made the minor leagues look like a walk in the park. He climbed through the levels quickly and posted a career minor league triple slash of .309/.366/.444. By 2017, he was making his MLB debut.

The only knock on Verdugo coming through the minors was the lack of power. It’s not like he had no power – in 513 career games, he hit 41 homers – but that translates to about 15-home runs for a full season, a below-average mark for a corner outfield bat. Still, a high average bat that rarely struck out left a lot to like here in Verdugo.


Dodgers Verdugo (2017-19)


Verdugo saw some limited action in 2017 and 2018 for the Dodgers. For the first time in his career, he struggled, but he was also a college-aged player at the MLB level. Across those two seasons, where he split time in the minors, Verdugo triple slashed .240/.309/.360 with two home runs in 52 games. Of the two seasons, he was much better in 2018, showing notable improvements, and posting a 96 wRC+.

The outfielder’s 2018 performance was good enough to earn him a permanent job on the roster in 2019. Given the Dodgers positional depth, it wasn’t an everyday role, but Verdugo appeared in 101 games, finishing with a triple slash of .294/.342/.475.  The power numbers took a step in the right direction with Verdugo belting 12 home runs and posting a .475 SLG. Overall, Verdugo recorded a 114 wRC+ in his age-23 season before being shipped off to Boston.


Red Sox Verdugo (2020)


Some fantasy hype started to build around Verdugo once he was traded to the Red Sox. While he was always seen as someone with the potential to become an above-average fantasy contributor, being a part of a deep Dodgers roster has its drawbacks and it would have been a question as to whether or not the Dodgers would have been willing to hand him a full-time role as early as 2020. A move to Boston seemingly freed Verdugo into a full-time role. But that wasn’t the only thing that changed for Verdugo.

STATS 2019 2020
Batting Average .294 .308
SLG .475 .478
BB % 7.7 8.2
K % 13 20.4

On the surface, it looks Verdugo took another slight step forward in 2020. He upped his batting average even more and his .308 number ranked 14th in all of baseball. His slugging more or less remained the same. His walk rate increased, but it came with a big jump in his strikeout rate. As mentioned earlier, Verdugo profiled as a contact-oriented hitter as he made his way through the minors. To this point in the majors, it had resulted in him hitting for a high average.

It appears that in 2020 he was making a conscious effort to be more patient and draw more walks. His swing rate dipped from 44.6% in 2019 to 42.8% in 2020, also causing his zone swing rate to drop from 61.2% to 57.8%. The MLB average is 66.6%, so it’s not necessarily a good thing that Verdugo’s rate fell that far below the league average, especially when he is so good at making contact one pitches in the zone.

The chart above further illustrates just how good Verdugo was at making contact in the zone compared to the rest of MLB. Unfortunately, he was swinging at these types of pitches at one of the lowest rates in MLB. His apparent effort to be more patient did help him draw a handful of more walks, but given that his strikeout rate spiked and he wasn’t putting his zone-contact abilities to their optimal use makes it seem like it may not have been the best strategy. Verdugo hit .371 and slugged .614 on pitches in the zone in 2020 while he hit and slugged just .164 on balls out of the zone. This isn’t surprising. Most players are going to be more productive on the pitches in the zone. But given that Verdugo did almost all of his damage on pitches in the zone and rarely swung and missed at these types of pitches, it seemed like an adjustment to swing at these offerings more often would help maximize his abilities. Earlier this year I theorized that both Ramón Laureano and Tommy Edman were both too patient in 2020 and it looks that same could be said for Verdugo.

Under the hood, too, it looks like Verdugo’s average was a bit of a mirage. His expected batting average checked in at just .238 and his .7 differential between his batting average and his expected average was the fourth-largest amongst all qualified hitters. Verdugo’s .371 BABIP ranked as the seventh-highest in baseball despite having a below-average 87 MPH average exit velocity. So on paper, Verdugo had a very solid Boston debut, but it was mostly due to good fortune.


Red Sox Verdugo (2021)


Through May 9, Verdugo’s surface stats look eerily similar to his 2020 numbers. The lefty is batting .306 with a .476 slugging. That’s about as close as you can get to what he put up a year ago. The good news is that his batted ball metrics back up his on-the-field production this time. Verdugo’s .311 expected batting average ranks in the 95th percentile in baseball and his .498 expected slugging ranks in the 78th. His BABIP has come down to .324 and his average exit velocity has jumped all the way to 90.7 MPH.

So what’s helping Verdugo break out this year? As discussed earlier, Verdugo was way too passive in 2020. In 2021? He’s been much more aggressive at the plate.

STATS 2020 2021 MLB Average
Swing % 42.8 46.5 46.9
First Pitch Swing % 12.2 23.9 29
Zone Swing % 57.8 66.3 66.5
Chase % 27.8 26.5 28.4

As the chart shows, Verdugo’s swinging more often in 2021. His swing and zone swing rates have climbed to right around the league average and while his first-pitch swing rate is still low, pitchers can no longer assume that he is a guarantee to take the first offering. What is most encouraging here is that despite Verdugo becoming a more aggressive hitter in 2021, we are actually seeing an improvement in his chase rate. He’s swinging more at pitches in the zone and less at pitches out of them. That’s a beautiful combination. Even more encouraging is what is not listed on the chart – Verdugo’s already well-above-average zone contact rate increased from 87.3% to 91.6%. So not only is Verdugo not swinging at the right pitches more often, but he is also making connecting with them at an even higher clip. Despite the more aggressive approach, his 7.2% walk rate isn’t too far off of his 2020 output and his strikeout rate has come all the way down to a career-best 12.3%.

But the adjustments don’t stop there for Verdugo. This season, the outfielder is going to the opposite field at a significantly higher rate. In 2020, Verdugo registered an opposite-field rate of 23.6%, which was below the MLB average of 25.5%. In 2021, Verdugo’s rate has skyrocketed to 32.1%, the 16th highest mark in the league. This is primarily due to how Verdugo is treating pitches on the outside part of the plate.

As the video shows, Verdugo is hitting these offerings harder and with a much higher launch angle. If Verdugo made connect with a ball on the outer part of the zone in 2020, it was likely a ground ball to the right side of the infield. His expected batting average on these events was .219 and his expected slugging checked in at .347. In 2021? He’s sending these offerings to left field and those expected numbers have improved to .328 and .501, respectively. To sum up, Verdugo was great on balls in the zone in 2020, but the outer third of the zone was his in-zone weakness. He’s transformed that weakness into a strength in 2021.




Verdugo had great surface stats in 2020, but it only took a brief glimpse behind the curtain to see that without some adjustments, some regression was likely coming. The lefty adjusted in several ways in 2021 and the results have been fantastic. Verdugo has been more aggressive at the plate, but not overly so, allowing him to put his high-contact abilities to work more often. He’s also started to hit balls to the opposite field at a high frequency, especially at pitches on the outer part of the zone, making him a threat on every pitch thrown in the zone. His results are more or less the same as they were last season, but the 2021 version of Verdugo is much more real.

From a fantasy and dynasty perspective, Verdugo is in his age-25 season. It appears that he is breaking out in 2021 in a full-time role with the Red Sox. With platooning becoming more and more common, it’s always important to check on splits. The lefty has a career 108 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers and a 119 against right-handed pitchers, so he doesn’t seem to have a splits problem at this point, but his occasional rest days will likely come against lefties.

The big question becomes whether or not we will ever see a big power breakout from Verdugo. His EV numbers climbing in 2021 are an encouraging sign. His average launch angle is currently at a career-high 9.8 degrees, so again, he is trending in the right direction. It’s not likely that Verdugo will ever be one of the top home run hitters in the league, but he feels like a safer bet to hit 20-25 home runs annually than he did coming up through the minors. There is always a chance he develops into more power in his mid-20s, especially if he continues to lift the ball more. From a speed standpoint, Verdugo will grab a handful of steals each year. He has four this season and is a safe bet to land around the lower-end of double-digit steals for the next few seasons. He’s not a burner but he is not likely to be a zero in that category.

Overall, Verdugo’s approach and contact ability give him one of the more stable fantasy floors in all of baseball. He doesn’t have top-end power or top-end speed, but he is a contributor in all categories and should flirt with a .300 average year-in and year-out. That’s similar to what we could expect from Michael Brantley in his peak seasons. Those types of players are becoming increasingly rare. Verdugo looks to be the part and is about to turn 25.  He’s a valuable fantasy asset in all formats.

(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Design by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter @ IG)

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