Boston star outfielder Mookie Betts , I mean, the guy they got back in that deal, Alex Verdugo , had a really good 2020 campaign. In 53 games, he hit six home runs, scored 36 runs, drove in 15 and swiped four bags, all while slashing .308/.367/.478. His strikeout rate was a bit elevated, but he should enjoy another successful season atop the Boston lineup, and playing time concerns with the ample outfielders Boston has should be negated by Verdugo’s lack of split disadvantages, as well as being an above-average leadoff hitter.
His 20.4 percent strikeout rate is far higher than the 13 and 16 percent marks of recent seasons, and it can be explained by an elevated whiff rate and a decline in his contact metrics. Now, they weren’t substantial by any means, and his strikeout rate probably should have been in the 16-18 percent range rather than above 20 percent. He actually left the zone less, but he whiffed more when doing so. Furthermore, it wasn’t breaking or offspeed stuff out of the zone that gave him fits, but it was the hard stuff.
His zone contact dropped from an excellent 93.7 percent in 2019 to a slightly less excellent 91.3 percent in 2020, and his whiff rates in the zone, especially on fastballs and offspeed stuff gave him fits.
Interestingly enough, there were 23 qualified hitters that hit at least .300 in 2020. The average runs batted in for those 23 players was 33.5 RBI. So, how in the heck did Verdugo hit .308 but only register 15 RBI!? Hitting leadoff certainly hurts that, as well as hitting just .226 with runners in scoring position, but the bottom-third of the Boston lineup didn’t do Verdugo any favors. Per Baseball Reference, Boston’s seven, eight and nine hitters (excluding pitchers) hit .229 with a porous .290 on-base percentage. Ouch. For a frame of reference, the bottom-third of the Boston lineup in 2020 put a stat line comparable to 2020 Adam Frazier or 2019 Mallex Smith .
Verdugo is not a Statcast hero, so don’t expect glowing marks in those metrics. His xBA in 2020 was .239 in 2020, which presents some cause for concern, but it was .293 back in 2019. His 20th percentile exit velocity and 27th percentile hard hit rates are far from outstanding, but fortunately, he has some favorable hitting parks in his division so he doesn’t need Aaron Judge -esque power to rack up home runs. With that in mind, he’s not going to be a major source of power, but his ceiling in 2020 is somewhere right around 20 home runs.
It’s rumored that Verdugo is being considered as the team’s leadoff hitter, but make no mistake; he will be the team’s leadoff hitter. In 2020, hit .304 with a .362 on-base percentage at the top of the order, and Boston needs him up there so that Xander Bogaerts , Rafael Devers , J.D. Martinez and Co. can pad their RBI totals.
So, with all of that in mind, what can we expect in 2021 from Verdugo? Well, it just so happens that he’s appeared in 159 games over the past two years, so this gives us a good starting point.
159 games played, 18 home runs, 79 runs scored, eight stolen bases, .300/.351/.476
If he can hit the ball a bit harder and get the numbers back to his 2019 season, there’s no reason he couldn’t hit 20 home runs this season, on top of stealing 10 bases with a batting average near .300. That would be incredibly valuable. However, I would tend to believe that a stat line like that would be his ceiling in 2021, with a more likely scenario being 15ish home runs and 8-10 stolen bases.
He should be an everyday player in the Boston outfield and he’s currently the 31st outfielder off the board, per NFBC data, and going off the board in early-to-mid ninth round in 15-team formats. Verdugo’s best asset is that he’s an above average producer in the batting average department, but outside of that, he does a little bit of everything, but not dominant in any particular category. He might not be the flashiest pick, but his ability to hit for a good average is a great asset.
There might be flashier picks around Verdugo, but he can give you a handful of stolen bases with an excellent batting average, and a little bit of everything else. There’s value in that alone! He’s an excellent option to provide a little boost to all of the offensive categories.