On Tuesday night, Xander Bogaerts endured what may well have been the worst game of his young career. An 0-for-5 performance replete with a hat trick, stranding six baserunners. Even a little quality from the shortstop could have saved Boston a lot of trouble and three extra innings in their eventual 4-3 victory over the Reds.
The night-to-forget has brought with it the use of the s-word. Xander Bogaerts, some would say, is facing the first slump of his major league career.
Really, it's not hard to twist and cherry-pick numbers to make it look like a player is struggling. Take Mike Napoli, for instance. He's been Boston's best bat at the plate so far in 2014, but over the course of his last eight games he's gone 5-for-22 (.227) at the plate. "Funny," you might think, "I don't remember being too frustrated with Napoli of late." And that would be because he's drawn twelve walks over that same period, reaching base in just under half of his plate appearances.
With Xander, the "good" side of things isn't quite so impressive, but even so it's hard to really say Xander's been "slumping" over any real period of time. If you take his last five games, he's hitting .250/.318/.300, but before that 0-for-5 performance, his last five would have shown an impressive .294/.429/.353 mark. If you look at just the four games included with the 0-for-5, it's .333/.412/.400. I don't mean to do my own cherrypicking, mind, but can a player really be said to be in a slump based on the addition of an 0-for-5 to an otherwise solid recent resume?
There are two valid criticisms that can be leveled against Xander's performance so far this season. First, that he's not hitting for power, and second, that he's been questionable at best defensively. The latter is a very real concern with Bogaerts, since we heard throughout much of his minor league career that he might well have to shift off shortstop. There's time to improve, but it's not a concern that can just be brushed off.
The former, however, shouldn't have anyone too worried. Power like Xander's doesn't just go away anywhere near his age. It can vanish overnight for some prospects if they're outmatched in the majors and simply unable to make good contact, but Xander is clearly anything but given his on-base percentage and penchant for line drives. Whether it's about the weather or just a matter of statistical noise, the power will come.
Otherwise, though, all we've got is a bunch of fluff. John Farrell may see Xander pressing at the plate with runners in scoring position, but as Joon pointed out yesterday, those results can also just be chalked up to small sample size and bad luck. Some may see his past week as a slump, but one game earlier it would have been business-as-usual for Boston's productive rookie.
Still, John Farrell getting Xander a day off can't hurt. He'd played in 17 straight games for the Red Sox before that point, and no matter how confident he is, it will give Bogaerts a chance to distance himself mentally from that 0-for-5 night before taking the plate again Friday. When he does step up to bat, he will do so not as a rookie in a slump, but as one of 2014's top prospects touting a .379 OBP.