Alex Verdugo on Evolving as Hitter (and Not Trying To Hit Home Runs)

Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Verdugo has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball. Over his last four games, the Boston Red Sox outfielder is 8-for-19 with four doubles and a pair of home runs, and two of his hits have been of the walk-off variety. Moreover, he’s swung a productive bat all season. Verdugo’s left-handed stroke has produced a .317/.381/.524 slash line and five long balls in 139 plate appearances. His wRC+ is a healthy 148.

The 26-year-old Tucson native has slashed .290/.346/.433 in his three-plus years wearing a Red Sox uniform, and to say that his performance has attracted a fair amount of scrutiny would be an understatement. That’s understandable. In February 2020, Boston acquired Verdugo, along with Connor Wong and Jeter Downs, in exchange for Mookie Betts and David Price.

Verdugo discussed his evolution as a hitter, which has included the realization that trying to hammer home runs is detrimental to his success, prior to Tuesday’s game at Fenway Park.

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David Laurila: This is your 10th professional season. Comparing now to then, how similar or different are you as a hitter?

Alex Verdugo: “I think I have the same mindset of what I’m trying to do. I’ve always been a guy that likes to hit the fastball to left and then pull the offspeed pitches. What’s changed throughout the years is how I deviate from my game plan. Back in the minors, back in the first couple of years, and even last year… I know my strengths, but I would be like, ‘You know what? I’m going to try to hit for power. I’m going to try to lift this. I’m going to try to pull a heater.’

“When I start having those thoughts, my front side, my hip, my front shoulder starts leaking out. It goes toward our first base dugout. I fly open on everything, and if it’s an offspeed pitch, I don’t have a chance.

“This year, I’ve been adamant about continually working inside the ball, working on hitting heaters to left, and then pulling the offspeed pitches. So far, that’s what I’ve been seeing — I’m seeing the results from that game plan.”

Laurila: To what degree have you deviated from your approach over the years? Have you ever made a purposeful attempt — a determined attempt — to hit for more power?

Verdugo: “Yeah, I have. But it just doesn’t work for me. I end up trying to hit the ball too far, or I just try to hit the ball out front too much. Like I said, my swing breaks down. When little things break down in your swing, that makes it a lot harder to hit against this kind of pitching.

“I hit the most home runs when I have little thoughts. I’m literally trying to hit a line drive up the middle and get under the ball just enough. That’s what creates the homer. Or I’m just out front enough on the offspeed pitches. You get lift from that natural approach. When I try to hit one, I get a little bit more of an uppercut swing, and I get rotational instead of being through the ball. It’s been a constant fight that I had to have with myself.”

Laurila: To be clear, you’ve made multiple attempts to hit for more power?

Verdugo: “Yes. The first time, I tried to do a leg kick — I want to say that was in 2015 — and it was a little leg kick, not even a big one. It was just, ‘Lift my foot up, hover, and go.’ That was in Low-A, and I hit about .230 probably all the way until three games before the All-Star break, three games before halftime. I was like, ‘Man, screw this. I’m going back to my toe tap and doing what I normally do.’

“I got my average up over the next couple of games, and then in the second half of the season, I hit .330 or .300-something. I kind of took off. That really told me, ‘Brother, this is my game. This is who I am. I need to get my foot down early, be on time, and just have base hits on my mind.’

“There hasn’t been one year in the big leagues where I’ve exclusively tried to hit for more power. It goes in waves. You start having success — you started going on a little hot streak — and you’re like, ‘All right. I’m feeling good. Now I’m going to lift some home runs and do some damage.’ Suddenly, you find yourself in a slump. You’re struggling again. Instead of staying on pitches, you’re missing balls that are right over the middle that you normally hit. Again, for me it’s been a constant fight to stay away from that.”

Laurila: Are you mostly hunting fastballs middle and adjusting from there, or are you looking for certain pitches from certain pitchers?

Verdugo: “There are some guys you can do that against. You get enough information on people to where you can be, ‘Hey, this guy likes to…’ Devin Williams, from the Brewers, for example. He’s a changeup guy. It’s unbelievable. He’ll throw it 70% of the time, so you can go up there and look for that pitch, making sure you’re seeing it up. So it all depends. With certain guys and their tendencies, maybe I’ll deviate a little bit, but for the majority the time, yes, I’m hunting fastballs.

“I’m trying to be on time with the heater. When I’m on time with the heater, it’s a line drive over the shortstop’s head. That helps me get enough play to where if I’m a little bit late, I’m going to go to left. If I’m a little bit early, I’m going to go to right. If I hit it right on time, I did exactly what I want: I hit that line drive to left-center. That’s when I’m seeing the changeup, the curveball, the slider. My barrel stays through enough, and now I’m going to right field instead of pulling off and swinging and missing, or fouling it off. My barrel just runs into it.”

Laurila: Has your swing path or setup changed over the years?

Verdugo: “I want to say they’re relatively similar. When I go good, I’ve always been a toe tap guy, kind of… like, when I was in the minors, I would stand really, really open, and I’d come back, then ‘Boom.’ Sometimes my hands would be up here. Sometimes they would be down here. But it’s always been a relatively similar move that I’m making. I haven’t deviated from my actual swing since high school.”

Laurila: What are you looking for on video when you’re scuffling?

Verdugo: “I’m usually looking at my lower half. I have a problem where my lower half will slide under… my hips will slide out. When my hip flies open, I’m late and my swing becomes something I really don’t want my swing to become. I feel slower. I feel like I can’t get to pitches.

“When I’m struggling a little bit, we have a couple of cues we look for. I go to the video and it’s like, ‘All right, man, you’re doing this.’ Somewhere, whether it’s the start of it or the actual move towards the ball — whether I’m diving, collapsing, or whatever it is — we’ve just got to make sure we nip it in the bud.”

Laurila: What changed when you came here from the Dodgers? I’m thinking primarily about what you hear from your hitting coaches.

Verdugo: “Nothing really changed too much about that. I feel like I’ve had good relationships with all my hitting coaches. I’m always open ears, but none of them have really tried to change the mechanics or how I hit. They just say, ‘You’re natural. That’s how you do it. Your body works that way.’ All they’ve really done is help me get my cues. Like I said, when I’m going wrong, or I’m feeling something, it’s from this, this or this. Maybe there are a couple of drills that will help me feel what I need to feel, to get me back to where I need to be.

“I talk every day. I talk to all the veterans and to guys in general. Everybody always talks about their swings. For me, a lot of it basically goes to, ‘Am I on time?’ If I start with a pitcher late, and I’m late, I’m going to rush. Something is going to have to happen to try to get that barrel to catch up to the ball. It might be my shoulder flying open. Something. That’s usually when I find myself in trouble. So a lot of it for me is timing. That and having a strong base.”

Laurila: You’ve obviously been asked about this before, but we should address that you came here as part of the Mookie Betts trade. That adds extra pressure to perform…

Verdugo: “I mean, a trade is a trade, right? We’ve done this before. It’s not the only trade in baseball, and it’s not the only big trade, either. You know, I feel like part of it is a blessing. In other ways, it sucks to kind of always be on that, the ’Oh, the Mookie trade, the Mookie trade.’ But I’ve never let it bother me. It’s like, ‘Hey, I got traded for a great player and it is what it is.’ I just want to play my game and be the person I am, the teammate I am. I need to just do what I do, and not try to replicate somebody else. Everybody always wants to bring it up, but to me, it’s not a big deal. I don’t stress out about it.”

Laurila: Is hitting fun?

Verdugo: “Yeah. Hitting is the funnest thing. It can be the worst, but it’s also the funnest thing. We love it, man. As a hitter, you go through so many ups and downs, and just so many emotions throughout the season. But I love this. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t.”

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Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Alex Bregman, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Gavin Cross, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Brendan Donovan, Donnie Ecker, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Ryan Fuller, Joey Gallo, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Nico Hoerner, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Tim Hyers, Connor Joe, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Heston Kjerstad, Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Hunter Mense, Owen Miller, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Logan O’Hoppe, Vinnie Pasquantino, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Spencer Torkelson, Mark Trumbo, Justin Turner, Trea Turner, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Chris Valaika, Zac Veen, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke Voit, Anthony Volpe, Christian Walker, Jared Walsh, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Mike Yastrzemski, Nick Yorke, Kevin Youkilis





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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dangledangle
9 months ago

Based on his history need to see where he stands at the end of the season. I’m not sold.