How the stats show Red Sox were correct to bench Alex Verdugo

Analyzing Verdugo's stats before and after his two 2023 benchings
Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox / Winslow Townson/GettyImages
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On Aug. 5, manager Alex Cora benched Alex Verdugo for the second time this season. The first, on June 8 against the Guardians, was for not hustling. This time, according to MLB.com's Ian Browne, was for not showing up on time. In fact, he showed up approximately two hours before the game, which is around when batting practice starts.

In his press conference (Via MassLive), Cora said, "Everybody has to be available every single day here. That’s the bottom line. And today, one guy wasn’t available."

When asked about getting benched, Verdugo said, "It's a manager's decision, and I respect his decision...And, whether it hurt the team or helped the team today, we don't know."

It certainly didn't help the team, who lost 5-4 to the Blue Jays after a crushing and careless double play ended the game. But could getting benched help Verdugo on an individual level?

A variety of arguments have been made both for and against benching players for their failure to hustle, show up on time, or behave like an adult who makes millions of dollars to play a sport for a living.

For those who support it, they might argue that benching effectively discourages players from engaging in that behavior again. This is because players want to get out there and play every game. Additionally, benching can even embarrass players in front of their teammates, fans, and family. So, the idea is that players will improve their behavior to avoid missing another game or to rebuild their reputation.

For those who oppose benching, they might argue that benching does not discourage players because nothing is actually being taken away. They do not make any less money and they even receive an extra day of rest. Sure, their reputation or pride might take a temporary hit, but it does not effectively discourage them from making the same mistake in the future.

Others might add that it is more effective for a manager to just talk to the player about their mistake because benching might compromise their relationship or even prompt further backlash from the player. Verdugo didn't sound too pleased in his interview, after all.

While arguments both for and against benching can be defended, they are subjective. They are grounded in morals and management styles, not metrics or math.

So, while stats are generally not involved in the decision to bench a poorly behaved player, let's take a look at the numbers and see what they suggest about Verdugo's benching.

Alex Verdugo got hot right after the Red Sox benched him

In the 13 games that preceded Verdugo's June 8 benching, he went 13 for 56 (.232) with a .652 OPS. Not terrible, but certainly not great for the lifetime .284 hitter.

In the 13 games that followed his benching, he went 22-56 (.393) with a 1.032 OPS and a 13-game hit streak. Whether it was mere chance or a conscious mindset change, Verdugo played just about his best baseball of the season in the weeks that followed getting benched.

Now, you might be asking, what were Verdugo's stats before his Aug. 5 benching? In 14 games, he was 7-50 (.140) with a .452 OPS and 17 strikeouts. In short, a brutal slump for the 27-year-old outfielder and one of his worst stretches of 2023.

He's only played one game since being benched, but he went 3-4 — his first multi-hit game since July 8.

Of course, we are working with a small sample size here. He could very well continue slumping in the next few weeks and the benching thesis will fall apart.

But, if his hot streak after the June benching is any indication, maybe Verdugo will get going here in August. And, if he does, perhaps Cora will start benching players to not only improve their conduct off the field but to improve their performance on the field.

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