Xander Bogaerts Is Putting the Pieces Together

For a while there, it seemed like the healthy version of Troy Tulowitzki was the best shortstop in baseball. That’s the guy the Blue Jays wanted to trade for, but Tulowitzki has entered a decline period, vacating the positional throne. And now things are kind of complicated. It doesn’t actually matter in any real way who you rank No. 1, among shortstops, but there’s plenty of competition. Last summer, I wondered aloud if Carlos Correa was already deserving of the label. More recently, August suggested it could be Francisco Lindor. There’s probably an argument for Brandon Crawford. There’s definitely an argument for Manny Machado, if you consider him a shortstop. Young shortstop talent is seemingly everywhere, but in Boston, now Xander Bogaerts is making his case. He’s doing so by blending all of his skills.

For Bogaerts, in one way, it hasn’t been smooth. That dreadful slump in 2014 raised several legitimate questions about his future. In another way, this was how it was always going to go. Rookie Bogaerts showed some skills. Sophomore Bogaerts showed different skills. Now the skillsets are being combined, and pitchers are running low on ways to get Bogaerts out.

Prospect Bogaerts was a promising power hitter. And so, to an extent, was rookie Bogaerts. Bogaerts presented himself as a decent threat to put a ball off of or over the Monster, but while that’s good for any hitter, there were clear vulnerabilities. Bogaerts was one of the worst hitters in the league to the opposite field, and when pitchers discovered that weakness, they exploited it. The productivity tanked, and the strikeouts soared.

So Bogaerts underwent a significant transformation. The hitter he was in 2015 bore little resemblance to the hitter he was the year before. Though some power was sacrificed, Bogaerts trimmed his strikeouts by a third, and he introduced himself to right field. He adopted an up-the-middle and opposite-field approach, and he went from batting .218 the other way to .385. One of the worst opposite-field hitters in baseball suddenly became one of the better ones, and that brought Bogaerts to a fork, of sorts. He could, in theory, maintain that approach. Or he could put it all together.

It would appear he’s putting it all together. The Xander Bogaerts in Boston now is still plenty capable of going the other way, but he’s also choosing more moments to turn on the ball. Better yet, there are hints of improved discipline, and the strikeouts haven’t picked up. Bogaerts has shown contact, and discipline, and power, and a spray ability. I’m not even touching on his visibly improved defensive work. (He has visibly improved his defensive work.)

Here’s Bogaerts going the other way, in wRC+:

  • 2014: 26
  • 2015: 126
  • 2016: 175

No step back. Actually a step forward! He still doesn’t have power over there, but that’s fine. Here’s Bogaerts pulling the ball, in wRC+:

  • 2014: 178
  • 2015: 147
  • 2016: 263

There’s some authority. And this isn’t just Bogaerts having more success around the field — there’s also the matter of his distribution. Bogaerts over the years, in pull rate:

  • 2014: 47%
  • 2015: 34%
  • 2016: 41%

This year, so far, he’s split the middle. He’s not trying to pull the ball as much as he once did, but he’s choosing his spots, because that’s where the extra-base hits are. Success the other way? Check. Success to the pull side? Check. More balls to the pull side? Check. All that’s left, really, is the difference between strikeouts and walks (K-BB%):

  • 2014: 17%
  • 2015: 11%
  • 2016: 8%

There you go. That’s everything. Maybe this hasn’t been presented in the most visually engaging way, but it’s all simple enough, and it’s plenty telling. It’s taken a few years, but Bogaerts is looking like the player he was supposed to become, back when he was a top prospect. That doesn’t mean this is automatically his new level, now, but this is the most encouraging development yet. This is the strongest sign that Bogaerts is indeed blossoming into a star.

Playing around with a little Statcast data, Bogaerts is hitting the ball harder, relative to last season. That’s true to the pull side, and that’s also true the other way. Bogaerts has always been strong, with quick hands, so I don’t think he’s gotten stronger — I think he’s just gotten more consistent, having found his timing and balance. Here’s a good sign. Last year, he ranked in the 68th percentile in terms of swings at offspeed pitches. This year, he’s down at the 20th percentile. He’s cut that swing rate by 10 points, and what that tells me is that Bogaerts has gotten better at identifying non-fastballs. He doesn’t always get it right, but look at this balance, against a slow curveball from Wednesday:

That followed consecutive fastballs, but Bogaerts was right on the pitch, staying back. That’s a pretty swing. Compare that to this swing against a similar, albeit lower, curveball from 2015:

Bogaerts did come away from that with an RBI double, which is a credit to his wrists. But his balance was worse, and he was out in front. Bogaerts didn’t give himself as much of a chance to see the pitch before committing, and that’s what can lead to worse discipline and worse contact. Again, by and large, Bogaerts last year was an offensive success, but this year he looks more capable. He’s better able to read and react, as opposed to just reacting. He’s therefore better able to turn on the power.

The adaptability is there, and so is the plan, and the plate coverage. Bogaerts now doesn’t have many weak spots, and though it’s a virtual lock that he’s going to end up with fewer singles dropping in, he’s plenty good to survive that regression. Bogaerts is blending his prospect power with his sophomore spray ability and contact. I don’t know what else you could want. That whole Red Sox offense is insane, but don’t let that distract you from what Xander Bogaerts has become.

We hoped you liked reading Xander Bogaerts Is Putting the Pieces Together by Jeff Sullivan!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

newest oldest most voted
Brad
Member
Brad

I mentioned in the Lindor piece that I thought Xander should be in the conversation for best SS in baseball and got pretty well told that he has no case. I wonder if that’s still true. And again, I even just said conversation, not definitively the best.

FWIW, I’m not a Red Sox fan.

wildcard09
Member
Member

IIRC almost everybody in that thread agreed he was still the 3rd or 4th best, behind Lindor, Correa, and possibly Crawford. Also, the main concern was his lack of power, which he seems like he might have figured out now.

cornflake5000
Member
cornflake5000

I personally think it’s Lindor, I understand where people are coming from when they take Correa’s bat. I think Russell has the “ability” to be in the conversation, though his bat is lagging behind at the moment. I think it’s fair to include Xander as well. I think what hurts his case is that he’s not considered the best fielder or the best hitter, but he’s very good at both.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

If eno is right and peak Russell is a .280/25 hr guy then yes he has a chance. Right now I rate 1) lindor 2) bogey 3) crawford 4) correa 5) Russell 6) seager and then a big drop off to the next tier, although crawford, arcia maybe even Anderson can be up there next year. I think correa and seager will be playing 3b next year though.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

I forgot to say I think machado is at short next year and is number 1.

cornflake5000
Member
cornflake5000

Totally agree that if he’s playing SS, he’s the best.

Darren_Dreadfort
Member
Darren_Dreadfort

He touched on this again in his chat… I think his rankings are fine but I really don’t see much gap between Lindor/Correa and Seager/Bogaerts. You could make a case for any of those guys besides maybe Seager.

redsoxu571
Member
redsoxu571

I don’t get why people are in such a hurry to declare an answer to a question to which there is undeniably no objective answer. If you declare that Bogaerts isn’t in the conversation, or say it’s impossible to make an argument for him for #1, you’re wrong, plain and simple.

Bogaerts has an incredible amount of talent at a position that is seeing a wonderful infusion of incredible talents. He probably won’t measure up to the Lindors of the world defensively over the next 5+ years, but his offensive upside could be the highest of the group, so counting him out now (he has the highest WAR of any full-time SS this season) or in the medium terms strikes me as odd.