Alex Verdugo’s unbelievable defensive prowess powers Yankees’ rise

Yankees' Alex Verdugo celebrates with Aaron Judge after his incredible catch against the Twins on June 6, 2024.
Michael Bennington
Thursday June 6, 2024

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Yankees’ Carlos Rodon retired the first 16 Twin batters he faced on Wednesday night. However, his most memorable moment came when a terrific running catch by Alex Verdugo helped him end the top of the second.

Alex Verdugo running facefirst into the left-field fence robbed Twins’ Byron Buxton of extra bases. It saved the Yankees 4-0 lead at a crucial point while stopping the Twins to start a rally. The happiness was quite visible on Rodon’s face.

However, the real happiness is palpable among the Yankees fans and analysts, who were scratching their heads for years to see a suitable option on the left field.

After a prolonged period of over five years, the New York Yankees have finally managed to gain a competitive advantage on the left with Alex Verdugo manning it. Some even feel his acquisition akin to the team’s strategic moves in 2009, though overshadowed by the offseason’s more high-profile transactions.

It’s possible that this element of unpredictability was a deliberate part of the Yankees’ offseason strategy. Or perhaps it was simply an unintended byproduct of their long-awaited decision to address the left field position. Regardless of the intent, Alex Verdugo’s defensive prowess, quantified by an impressive 9 Defensive Runs Saved entering on Wednesday, has propelled him far beyond even the most optimistic expectations. His contributions extend beyond his glove, as he has delivered clutch hits, celebrated with unbridled enthusiasm, and even entertained fans with Alex Verdugo’s signature dog barks.

A consistent miracle defense by Alex Verdugo

From the opening series against the Houston Astros to the grueling finale of a doubleheader against the Cleveland Guardians, Alex Verdugo’s extraordinary ability to cover ground under any circumstances has been a recurring theme. His defensive brilliance has been on full display, showcasing his agility, range, and unwavering commitment to making plays regardless of the challenges presented by the field or the weather.

For instance, his immaculate defense at Progressive Field during an April doubleheader, and with the Yankees leading the nightcap by seven runs, he could have opted to play it off the wall. He ran into the line drive that Guardians shortstop Brayan Rocchio laced into the corner at Progressive Field. Reliever Dennis Santana, who missed his spot with the 1-2 pitch, admitted he thought Alex Verdugo had “no chance” of catching the ball.

Yet, like a defensive back racing to cover a deep route, Alex Verdugo sprinted toward the back corner of the outfield grass. With a 99th percentile sprint speed, hitting 26.1 mph to cover 60 feet in less than four seconds, he reached the spot just in time. He lunged forward, caught the sinking liner, and slid gracefully, popping up in one fluid motion.

Yankees' Alex Verdugo-making a thrilling defense in left field at Yankee Stadium on May 07, 2024.
AP

Maintaining a straight face while chewing gum, Alex Verdugo flipped the baseball to himself, catching it barehanded before flexing toward his teammates. Earlier this season, he told NJ Advance Media that his defensive mission is to take away hits from everyone, regardless of the situation, opponent, or score: he said he aims “to take everybody’s hits. If I’m not getting hits, or even if I am, I want to take them from everybody.”

Alex Verdugo has been showcasing his defensive prowess in pinstripes all year, surpassing even the high expectations set by his tenure with the Dodgers and Red Sox.

Entering Wednesday, Alex Verdugo has recorded plus-9 defensive runs saved (DRS) over a league-leading 58 games played in left field this season, a figure unmatched by any other left fielder, with the next highest being plus-6 DRS.

The 28-year-old also boasts a plus-3 out above average (OAA) in 2024, tying for the fourth-best among qualified left fielders.

This performance is a stark improvement for the Yankees, who had a league-worst minus-14 DRS in left field last year, shared with the Phillies. Since Brett Gardner’s final game in 2021, the Yankees have struggled with consistency in left field, cycling through players like Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Cabrera, Joey Gallo, Andrew Benintendi, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Billy McKinney, Jake Bauers, and more, with a total of 16 different starters in the position between 2022 and 2023.

Aaron Judge, who had advocated for the Yankees to acquire Alex Verdugo, commended his defensive skills. Judge noted that Verdugo remains one of the best outfielders he has ever played with, emphasizing that Verdugo’s commitment to making plays is unwavering, regardless of his physical condition or performance at the plate.

Alex Verdugo’s work ethic fuels defensive brilliance

X-NYY

Before games, Alex Verdugo often jogs to second base, fielding grounders while his teammates take batting practice. At first glance, it might seem like just another playful pregame activity, consistent with Verdugo’s vibrant clubhouse demeanor.

Yet, Yankees third base coach Luis Rojas, who oversees outfield instruction, emphasizes that Alex Verdugo’s infield practice serves a strategic purpose. He mentioned that the outfielder aims to enhance his reaction time and first-step quickness by being closer to contact. He drew a parallel to his brother, Moisés Alou, who also moved to the infield after shagging flyballs during his time in Montreal. Rojas has encouraged outfielders to adopt this practice wherever he has coached, highlighting its benefits for defensive agility.

Rojas noted that Alex Verdugo is never content with his defensive performance, always seeking improvement. He frequently receives feedback from coaches and responds with a determination to do better.

This dedication has been evident throughout the season, starting with the Yankees’ season-opening sweep in Houston, where Alex Verdugo made several game-saving catches. He expressed his pride in his defensive contributions, stating that his goals are to help the team win and to earn a Gold Glove.

Yankees fans hail Alex Verdugo

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