Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Newsletter Excerpt, December 6, 2023 -- "AL East Notes"


This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider.

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New York Yankees

The Yankees add Verdugo to a mix of corner outfielders who can play center if they have to, like Aaron Judge and Everson Pereira. Jasson Dominiguez will be back in the second half to take over in center, and the team would love to see Estevan Florial hit well enough to hold the job until then. This whole deck gets shuffled if the Yankees trade for another outfielder, though I can’t imagine who that might be.

Having buried Verdugo above, let me take a second to consider the possibility that he could be an asset for the Bronx Bombers. I’m thinking specifically of another trade pickup of a left-handed hitter who had been disappointing to that point in his career, and who turned himself into a different player in the Bronx, making himself a lot of money in the process.

Didi Gregorius was 25, three years younger than Verdugo is today, when the Yankees acquired him for Shane Greene as part a three-way trade with the Diamondbacks and Tigers. He’d hit .243/.313/.366 (88 OPS+) in 724 PA in parts of three seasons with the Reds and Snakes. The Yankees were adding him to replace Derek Jeter after Jeter chose to exit stage...well, it would have had to have been stage right, I guess. 

Gregorius had largely been an all-fields hitter to that point, with a pull rate around 35% and a flyball tendency that hadn’t produced much power. With the Yankees, though, Gregorius took aim at the short right-field porch; he pulled 38% of his batted balls in his first two seasons in the Bronx, and then 41% over his last three. His flyball rate peaked at 43-44% while with the Yankees, and all those pulled fly balls made him a good hitter. Gregorius hit 20 or more homers from 2016 through 2018, slugged .472 in that time, and had a 108 OPS+. He even got some stray MVP votes in 2017 and 2018. 

Verdugo, like Gregorius, arrives in New York without a track record of pulling the ball. Worse still, he hasn’t been much for hitting the ball in the air. Verdugo was among the bottom quartile of hitters last year in barrel rate, and he’s in the middle of the pack with a .417 expected slugging. Unlike Gregorius, though, Verdugo is playing for his next deal. He’s lost a lot of his perceived value, and as a free agent after 2024, should be motivated not just to play well, but to adapt.

The path to 25 homers, a .475 SLG, and a $50 million contract is all right there in front of him. If Didi Gregorius can become a slugger, Alex Verdugo can, too.