So I started reading today and this hit me right in the face: Bobby Dalbec and Alex Verdugo are at war, at least figuratively, and they don’t even know it.
Or maybe they do.
Speaking to the media yesterday during a Zoom conference, Verdugo said this: “I’m big on playing the game, spraying the ball, and just hitting the ball hard, man. I don’t really care about that launch angle stuff.”
Now here is Dalbec on his strikeout rate to Peter Abraham of the Globe: “I’m not too worried about it. To me, an out is an out.”
Quick, pick a side:
Whom do you like better?
If this all sounds contrived, it is – at least in part. But you get the idea. Amid baseball’s exploding emphasis on launch angle, we have lost the proverbial happy medium. In the process, players have been tossed to the wayside – Andrew Benintendi, anyone? – because their games did not fit into some close-minded analytical model. Maybe that was Benintendi’s fault, which he suggested. Maybe it was that of the Red Sox, whom he might have been trying to protect. And maybe Benintendi will get back to being the player he was now that he’s a member of the Kansas City Royals, who recently acquired him from the Red Sox in a trade.
Last season, Dalbec struck out a whopping 39 times in 92 plate appearances (80 at-bats), a rate that made him the second-highest strikeout machine in the game behind only Miguel Sano among 331 major leaguers with at least 90 plate appearances. (Remember: it was a short season). In fact, Dalbec made contact on a lower percentage of his swings than any player on the same list of 331 – even Sano – which means he’s almost as likely to make contact in the on-deck circle as he is in the batter’s box.
The best Red Sox player in terms of contact? You guessed it – Verdugo, who was 42nd among the 331 in contact rate according to Fangraphs.
Now here’s the part that may surprise you:
I’m OK with it.
Ya but Mazz I thought you were a traditionalist. Wrong. I’ve never been against any sort of progress or modification as long as it made sense. What I am against is taking people and pigeonholing them into the same philosophy when it doesn’t make sense for everyone. You want to tell me that Dalbec’s best chance of having impact in the major leagues is to hit for power? Fine. You’re probably right. If he’s going to miss the ball constantly, he’s better off driving when he actually hits it. That makes sense. But if we’re going to take a guy like Verdugo and force him to be something he’s not – and destroy his game in the process – that’s just stupid.
And you know who agrees, at least publicly?
“We can’t strike out all the time, right?” said the Red Sox manager. “And obviously, we cannot live and die with a home run. Making contact – it works. …We need balance. People that can work the count – [they] can hit with two strikes. And he brings that to the equation on a daily basis.”
Let me translate: Bottom of the ninth, two outs, down a run, two on. Do you want Verdugo up or Dalbec? I’ll take the former. If the deficit is three, I might lean Dalbec, depending on whom the pitcher is. But again, you get the idea.
Both are OK – because you’ll ultimately need both.
All of this might seem logical to you, but it isn’t. For all the complaining about traditionalists that the analytics generation has had over the last 20-25 years, they’re now guilty of the exact same close-mindedness. It’s their way or the highway. The pendulum has swung completely in the other direction. Baseball now has less action than ever and less actual baseball, which has somehow led to the point where a perfectly balanced and talented baseball player like Verdugo has to actually defend his approach.
So fine, label me some sort of stodgy, stubborn traditionalist.
But what I actually prefer is a two-party system, where most of us live between the dead-red of Bobby Dalbec and true blue of Alex Verdugo.