Yankees make big change at cleanup spot and it pays off

MLB: New York Yankees at Milwaukee Brewers, alex verdugo
Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have been actively adjusting their lineup in recent weeks, seeking the optimal configuration of players to maximize their offensive output.

This past Saturday marked a significant shift in strategy as the team moved Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Rizzo down the order while promoting left fielder Alex Verdugo to the cleanup spot despite his typical lack of power.

Verdugo Shines in New Role With the Yankees

Despite not being renowned for his power-hitting capabilities, Alex Verdugo made a statement early in the game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

In the first inning, with Anthony Volpe and Juan Soto on base, Verdugo blasted a 390-foot home run to right-center field, propelling the Yankees to an early 3–0 lead. This pivotal moment set the tone for what would become a 15-3 victory, highlighting Verdugo’s potential impact in this new role.

MLB: New York Yankees at Milwaukee Brewers, alex verdugo
Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

After a challenging start to the season, Verdugo has found his form, now boasting a .274/.368/.463 slash line with four home runs and 13 RBIs. His strikeout rate sits impressively at 7.9%, complemented by a 13.2% walk rate, placing him in the 97th percentile for whiff rate and the 100th for strikeout rate, underscoring his disciplined approach at the plate.

Adjustments and Impact

Although traditionally not known for his slugging, Verdugo ranks in the 23rd percentile in hard-hit rate and the 19th percentile in average exit velocity. Nevertheless, he maintains an expected batting average of .279 and an expected weighted on-base average of .350. His ability to adapt and enhance his game since joining the Yankees from the Boston Red Sox has been a significant boon for the team.

MLB: New York Yankees at Milwaukee Brewers, alex verdugo
Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Not only has Verdugo been effective offensively, but he has also excelled defensively. In his 244.2 innings in left field this season, he has maintained a perfect fielding percentage and saved three defensive runs, marking a substantial improvement over the Yankees’ 2023 outfield options. Verdugo’s consistent health and performance, having played in all 28 games this season, provide the Yankees with a reliable asset they can depend on daily.

Elevating Verdugo to the cleanup spot was a bold move, especially with other key players like Stanton struggling and Rizzo working to regain his form after last season was cut short due to concussion symptoms.

However, this decision paid off immediately, showcasing Verdugo’s potential to significantly influence the game, particularly in crucial situations with runners in scoring position where he has a .261 batting average, two home runs, and 11 RBIs in 28 plate appearances. This strategic lineup change could be a pivotal development for the Yankees as they continue to navigate the season.

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