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