Call me crazy, but I, for one, would not want to be traded for Mookie Betts. He’s cooler than me. He’s more caring than me. And, most relevant for the purposes of this conversation, he’s a much, much better baseball player. It’s really hard to come out the winner in a comparison to Mookie, is what I’m saying.
Alex Verdugo, unfortunately, wasn’t given a say in the matter. He was traded for Mookie Betts; he is and likely always will be the most prominent name of the three that made up that now infamous return; and he will spend the rest of his life not just linked to the future Hall-Of-Famer, but shackled to him, a perpetual prisoner to comparison.
He should not be on the Boston Red Sox; and yet he is. And no matter what Alex Verdugo does on a baseball field going forward, I and many others will never, ever be able to look at him without feeling a flicker of anger.
This is not his fault, and that alone makes him a sympathetic — if not downright tragic —figure on the baseball field. Even if Alex Verdugo lives up to the potential he once carried as the 19th-ranked prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball Prospectus, he will never match Mookie’s talent and accomplishments. And he probably knew that the day he was traded.
But now, four years later, he’s forced to consider something else: what if he never lives up to that potential at all?
2022 In One Sentence
Average is as average does.
Alex Verdugo was always there, day in and day out. That might seem like damning with faint praise, but on a team that had more dollars on the injured list than any other in baseball last year, merely staying healthy was extremely valuable.
Moreover, there were multiple stretches when he was one of the team’s top offensive performers. During Boston’s scorching June, Verdugo slashed .337/.400/.505, leading the club in both hits and RBI. Almost the entire team was hitting well that month, but that certainly wasn’t the case during the subsequent dreadful August, when Verdugo was just about the only bright spot in the entire lineup, slashing .330/.393/.491 with 12 doubles on a team that was rapidly circling the drain.
Despite those two hot months, Verdugo finished the season as a league-average hitter, because what was sandwiched in between was often downright ugly. May was particularly brutal: he went homerless for the entire month while putting up a dreadful .250 OBP.
And while there was some reason to believe he was the victim of bad luck for much of the year on the hitting side of things — his BABIP in April was a shockingly low .216, for example — bad luck can’t explain away the consistently poor base running and defense. On the base paths, he was thrown out at home three times. In the outfield, he finished 102nd amongst all big league outfielders with just -4 Outs Above Average.
Overall, he was a league average hitter who provided negative value in the field and on the base paths. That’s . . . not great.
Best Game Or Moment
Coming into the game against the Yankees on July 9, the Red Sox had lost 8 of their previous 11 games. The slump had dropped the Sox into third place by a half a game, and it was extremely concerning in light of how hard they had to work to get back into the postseason picture following a brutal start to the season. Kutter Crawford, making just his third start of the season and coming off a start in which he allowed two homers and four runs in just four innings pitched, managed to keep the Yankees at bay, striking out six over five innings and yielding just a solo home run to Aaron Hicks. But Ryan Brasier couldn’t even record two outs in the 6th before putting the Red Sox in a two-run hole.
But Verdugo slapped a grounder through a hole in the shift to tie the game in the 8th, and then, after Jake Diekman failed to hold the lead in the 10th, dug the Sox out again, this time giving them a walk-off win that, we hoped, would finally right the ship:
One Big Question
Is this all there is for Alex Verdugo? Given his prospect pedigree and a strong performance in the COVID season, it looked Verdugo would make an All Star team or two at the very least. But that 2020 season remains the best of his career. His performance at the plate has slipped slowly downward each subsequent season, in almost every aspect. The walk rate is falling and the power is diminished. The only aspect of his game that’s improved since 2020 is his ability to make contact, as his strikeout rate was in the 92nd percentile last year.
Alex Verdugo wasn’t supposed to be a league-average corner outfielder. But entering his age-27 season, that’s what he appears to be.
2023 And Beyond
It appears that Alex Verdugo is going to be the starting right fielder on Opening Day. He played the position competently in 2020, but his defensive metrics have regressed significantly since then. He once averaged over 93 MPH on his throws to the outfield (he’s a former pitcher, remember), but has seen that number drop to 90.4 in 2020 and 88.7 last year. Meanwhile, his sprint speed has dropped nearly a full foot-per-second in just three years. He’s now moving from one of the smallest outfield positions in all of baseball to one of the biggest, and things could be ugly out there. If he remains nothing more than a league-average bat and complements that with defensive butchery, then for how much longer will he deserve a starting role?