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Making The Case for Alex Verdugo Batting Leadoff for the LA Dodgers

Give him a shot against right-handers.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 01: Alex Verdugo #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers as he hits a pinch hit home run in the fifth inning of the game off Drew Pomeranz #37 of the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on April 1, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

The Dodgers, especially against right-handed pitching, usually bat Joc Pederson in the leadoff spot of the batting order. While it is cool to have Joc lead off a game with a home run sometimes (four times in 2019, 15 times in his career), there needs to be a player in that spot that can work a count, get on base and make contact. I believe they should also be good base runners, who do not clog the bases.

With the Dodgers not having a true or traditional leadoff hitter, I’ll make a case for giving Alex Verdugo a chance at that spot.

Let’s Eliminate Some Candidates

Below is a list of players with a higher on-base percentage than Alex Verdugo’s .355, as of this writing, with the reasons they should not bat leadoff.

  • Cody Bellinger – .431: There is just too much power that would be wasted, especially with the pitcher’s spot in front of the leadoff spot.
  • David Freese – .401: He’s not a full time player due to his age and declining health. However, we could see him bat leadoff in the playoffs again, but I prefer runners to be on base when he hits.
  • Justin Turner – .374: Same as Freese with the age and health. He needs to be protected but I really like how he works at bats. Keep protecting JT.
  • Max Muncy – .365: Muncy is one that I’d seriously consider as a leadoff hitter. He’s tops on the Dodgers in pitches per plate appearance and is a good base runner. For now, I eliminate him because I like him batting behind Bellinger for protection.
  • Russell Martin – .353: No. Don’t you dare say “Austin Barnes
  • Corey Seager – .345: Seager is a first pitch swinger and I would hate to see his approach altered.

Remaining Candidates

Dodgers
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – APRIL 20: Chris Taylor #3 of the Los Angeles Dodgers flies out in the second inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on April 20, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The following players have batted in the leadoff spot this season along with Verdugo.

An Evaluation

Before we get started in evaluating the leadoff candidates let’s remember that the Dodgers play the match-ups heavily. For example, if Madison Bumgarner is pitching, Kiké Hernández will bat leadoff. If a left-hander is starting, I’d expect a right-handed hitter to leadoff.

The data below looks at various Advanced Statistics and Plate Discipline Percentages along with Pitches Per At-bat (PPA). The statistics for all but the PPA information were gleaned from FanGraphs.

Definitions

  • PA – Plate Appearances
  • BB% – percentage of PAs that result in walks
  • K% – percentage of PAs that result in strikeouts
  • OBP – on-base percentage
  • SPD – speed score
  • UBR – ultimate base running not factoring in stolen bases and stolen base attempts
  • wSB – Weighted Stolen Bases Runs Above Average. Base running value from stolen bases.
  • O-Swing- Outside the Zone Swing Percentage
  • Z-Swing – Inside the Zone Swing Percentage
  • Swing – Swing Percentage
  • O-Contact – Outside the Zone Contact Percentage
  • Z-Contact – Inside the Zone Contact Percentage
  • Contact – Contact Percentage
  • SwStr – Swinging String Percentage
  • PPA – Pitches Per At-bat

Rankings By Statistic

The following table shows the rankings of each leadoff candidate in each of the above defined areas. A “1” is best.

In any area related to making contact Alex Verdugo is at the top, and it is by a lot. He basically swings and misses only 5% of the time. If he could cut down on his swings on pitches outside of the zone (O-Swing%) he’d probably walk more. Chris Taylor has the most speed and is probably a little better on the bases. But he may be missing some time with a wrist injury. Joc Pederson has the best walk rate and, surprisingly, the 2nd best K%. In almost every other area he exhibits characteristics of batting lower in the order.

Nothing indicates that Kiké Hernández should be batting leadoff. Of course, the Bumgarner starts are different and you want Kiké to get the most plate appearances against him as possible. A.J. Pollock has a few items that are nice for a leadoff hitter but he’s never been much of an OBP type player. His pop is needed lower in the lineup as one of the few right-handed hitters with real power, he helps break up all the lefties in the order.

Summary

From all the statistics we’ve looked at I believe Alex Verdugo deserves a shot at the leadoff spot, especially against right-handed starting pitchers. He has the best on-base percentage and controls the strike zone quite well. Maybe in the leadoff spot he would get a few more walks as he might take a little different approach at the plate. The key is swinging less at pitches outside the strike zone. At the end of the day he has earned an opportunity to leadoff against righties. Chris Taylor against most left-handed starters makes sense and that already seems to be the plan. Let’s see the plan against righties change as Joc should bat down in the lineup and Verdugo should bat leadoff.

Written by Tim Rogers

A fan of the Dodgers since 1973 since I got my first baseball cards while living in Long Beach. I came to San Diego for college and never left nor did I ever switch my Dodgers' allegiance. Some know me as the "sweater guy". #ProspectHugger

5 Comments

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  1. I’ve been saying it since the first month of the season. Hes not a power hitter and high contact rate have screamed lead off hitter to me. I think u would see the offense go to another gear with alex at the top.

    • Great article, really shows why Alex is probably our best bet. He has been fairly steady; good base instincts, and the thing that is kind of unspoken is his “rah rah” attitude when he gets on base. Like the idea. Could be a good time to work him into that role.

  2. Verdugo is getting better every game. He’s a legit .300 hitter who makes contact goes the other way. Roberts is the only manager who I can remember having 230 hitters lead off. it’s comical when KIki bats there.

  3. Great article and stats, thank you. I agree I live in Tucson so I have followed Verdugo for the last few years. The young man has amazing patience and discipline for his age and experience. I also like his attitude it’s very uplifting and positive.

    His throw Sunday Night changed the inning and probably the game in the Dodgers favor.

    He has a great arm many wanted to sign him and make him a pitcher. He can throw 100mph.

  4. Dodger I believe should put verdugo or Kiki at leadoff and keeping them there for rest of the season . they’ll have more score oppurnites cause they put the ball in play and have the speed to steal at any time . the role of leadoff ihhitter is to get on base and hard out jacque Peterson is none of that it’s home run or bust with him he has no business leadoff he should be batting 6th or 7th if dodger are smart and make that change we’ll see there run production go up and so many low score close games wins

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