Red Sox throwdown: Alex Verdugo versus Trot Nixon
By Rick McNair
A comparison throwdown between two Boston Red Sox right fielders.
Digging into my fading memory banks regarding Alex Verdugo I was looking for a comparison. Mike Greenwell was rejected based on his lack of defensive prowess in the field and Greenwell was primarily a left fielder. So the choice of comparison is Trot Nixon who played eight full seasons for the Boston Red Sox and parts of two others in which Nixon enjoyed a cup of coffee.
Nixon – a left-hand hitter – was drafted in the first round by the Red Sox in 1993 and his path to signing was a bit unusual. Nixon was an outstanding high school football player in addition to playing baseball. How good for the dual-sport star? Nixon was North Carolina Player of the Year in both sports and intended to play baseball and football at North Carolina State. The day classes started, Nixon signed with Boston.
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Nixon’s first full season in Boston was unremarkable, hitting .270 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI. But there was something else regarding the intense Nixon – he became the inspiration for the term “Dirt Dogs” as Nixon was in perpetual motion on the field, fearless defensively, and had a brief fling with a Mowhawk hairstyle.
In 2004, Nixon played only 48 games thanks to a serious back injury, but in the World Series, it was a different story. Nixon hit .357 and as a playoff performer, Nixon hit .283 in 42 post-season contests. By 2006 it was all over in Boston for Nixon when the Red Sox refused arbitration and signed J.D. Drew as a free agent. Now there was a personality shift.
Nixon’s most formidable season in Boston was 2003 when he hit .306 with 28 home runs and 87 RBI. That season in the ALDS, Nixon came off the bench in the 11th inning and slammed a two-run pinch-hit home run that became the deciding runs in the Red Sox toppling the A’s and moving on for that dreadful moment against the Yankees in the ALCS.
Nixon briefly had time with other organizations after leaving Boston, seeing MLB time with the Indians and finishing his career with the Mets when he hit just .171 in 11 games. Defensively, Nixon was excellent with a strong and accurate arm. Excellent jump on the ball and the ability to play the mesmerizing right field at Fenway Park. Fielding metrics were certainly not as advanced as today, but they are still very favorable to Nixon.
Verdugo has been a pleasant surprise and appears to have the same mentality as Nixon regarding the game and his own personal safety on defense. There is no Drew in either and pitchers love guys that will defensively erase pitching mistakes. With Jackie Bradley Jr. in center that is an exceptional defensive duo especially at Fenway Park. Verdugo had a 9.8 UZR/150 and JBJ a 5.0 UZR/150.
Nixon didn’t reach 20+ home runs until he was 27-years-old so Verdugo has a few years to go to see if his power numbers will climb. In 2020, Verdugo hit six home runs and had 15 RBI, but hit .308 despite a slump the last week of the season. Verdugo hit .282 in 156 games for the Dodgers so he will certainly hit for average and already has.
Where I see a gap in Nixon and Verdugo is hitting left-handers which Nixon had a career-long issue with. Nixon hit just .214 against southpaws with a sharp reduction in power, hitting 12 home runs in 659 at-bats. Verdugo hit .310 against lefties in 2020 and .308 in his short career compared to .281 against righties. Unlike Nixon, I get no ugly feeling when Verdugo faces left-hand pitching.
We view the past inevitably through a rose-colored prism and baseball is no exception. A bias towards the past when the field was greener, the players more skilled, and the game far more entertaining, and that bias is placed on comparisons. My opinion is just what I have seen of Verdugo is he is a superior player to Nixon in Nixon’s best seasons. A better hitter, a better fielder, and a better arm.