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Alex Verdugo proving to be better than advertised

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Power and contact numbers put him in rare company

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

We all knew Alex Verdugo was kinda good. I ranked him as the top prospect in the organization coming into the season, as did David Hood and a number of other prospect sites. But what he has done through his first, roughly, 100 plate appearances is impressive and he’s in uncharted territory for Dodger hitters of recent memory.

Milwaukee Brewers v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

Most surprising has been his power. Verdugo has a .232 isolated slugging percentage (ISO), which is almost 60 points better than league average for this season. His career-best in the minors — not counting rookie ball — was .143, which he established last season with Oklahoma City. He already has four home runs, five doubles and two triples. More than a third of his hits have gone for extra bases, which hasn’t been his MO. But with the Dodgers’ hitting philosophy through the minors and now in the majors, Verdugo is falling into line by cutting his ground ball rate from 51.9 percent with OKC last season to 43.8 percent with LA this season.

While that’s the most surprising part about Verdugo’s performance early this season, the part that really stands out to me is what he’s doing with his plate discipline numbers. Prior to Wednesday’s game, Verdugo was running a contact rate of 90.1 percent. Since 2002 (the first year of batted ball data available), only five times has a Dodger hitter posted a contact rate above 90 percent:

  • Juan Pierre, 94.3 percent (2007)
  • Jamey Carroll, 92.6 percent (2011)
  • Kenny Lofton, 92.1 percent (2006)
  • Paul Lo Duca, 92.0 percent (2002)
  • Cesar Izturis, 90.3 percent (2004)

Lo Duca ended up posting the best ISO (.121) of the quintet. So, the fact that Verdugo is at .232 while maintaining a better than 90 percent contact rate is impressive. Since ‘02, the player who has posted the highest ISO while running a 90 percent contact rate is Victor Martinez, who had a .230 ISO in 2014 with a 91.9 percent contact rate. The only other player to have a .200 or better ISO with a 90 percent contact rate was Ian Kinsler in 2011 with the Rangers. Verdugo is in some rarefied air.

For good measure, four of the top five players in contact percentage so far this season have ISOs above .200 — Michael Brantley (.225), Mike Trout (.272), Tommy LaStella (.256) and Verdugo (.232).

Of course, it’s early May and he’ll probably not finish with a .200+ ISO, but the contact rate should remain high as he has always been known for that.

Not only is Verdugo making contact at a high rate, he’s making contact inside the strike zone at an extremely high rate. His 96.1 Z-Contact% is fourth-best in baseball. As a result, Verdugo has a 3.9 swinging strike rate — sixth-lowest in the game.

Aside from the power spike, all of this from Verdugo was expected. We knew the scouting reports. We knew the kid could hit. As it turns out, he’s a really good baseball player. For further proof of this, Verdugo has seven defensive runs saved across all three outfield positions this season. Defensive stats take a long time to stabilize and are imperfect, but it sure seems like Verdugo is the well-rounded player we were all expecting. And the Dodgers are reaping the benefits thus far.