Xander Bogaerts made a statement on Sunday, drilling two home runs and helping the Boston Red Sox get back into the American League East race.
It’s funny to think about Bogaerts’s place in baseball. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs recently described the young shortstop as a very weird good player. In a lot of ways, that’s kind of true. He was touted as a slugger who played a premium position when he was a prospect. Instead, he has morphed into a contact-heavy slap hitter who dings singles and doubles off the Green Monster.
Given the home-run happy offensive environment in which we find ourselves, one wouldn’t be wrong to think that Bogaerts is now somewhat underrated, given that he was once one of the faces of the Red Sox’s young core. Since his 2013 postseason breakout, he has taken a back seat to Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Even Andrew Benintendi has stolen a bit of Bogaerts’ spotlight.
And yet, there Bogaerts is, having racked anywhere from six to nine wins above replacement over 2015 and ’16, depending on which WAR model you’re looking at. This year, he has posted 2.5 WAR already, making him a top-20 player in the majors.
It’s no secret how he does it. Bogaerts is slick defensively, rating as a plus defender at the most demanding non-catcher position on the diamond. Add in elite baserunning, and he is a five-tool player living up to those tools.
Well, most of them. Bogaerts smacked 21 home runs last year, but so did everyone. His power has never really come the way it was supposed to, and that has carried over into the new season. He has only four round-trippers in 281 plate appearances this season. Interestingly, his swing rates have dropped a few percentage points while his contact rates have remained stable. Theoretically, Bogaerts is being more selective, perhaps to sell out for power. But that power has yet to arrive.
Again, is that lack of power pushing him below the radar of great players? It’s possible. On the other hand, doesn’t everyone look slightly pedestrian next to Aaron Judge this year? Power is enormously valuable. If you take your walks and hit a lot of balls hard and in the air, you’re going to score your team a bunch more runs than if you slap the ball around.
Bogaerts is fortunate in that he uses the skills he has to still get results. His .270 Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) shows that he’s not making great contact. The lack of a park adjustment in the stat also might suggest that the Green Monster is pushing that number down. Once we can adjust xwOBA for park effects, Bogaerts’s expected production on contact might appear a little rosier.
At the end of the day, a team can be satisfied with a slick-gloved shortstop who can run and still make enough decent contact to be an above-average hitter. In the age of power-hitting shortstops like Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Corey Seager, you’d be forgiven for letting your eye wander from Bogaerts’ place in the pecking order. No matter. Bogaerts is playing like a traditional shortstop, and the Red Sox are thrilled.
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