BOSTON -- Xander Bogaerts' April was typical of the track record that he posted in the minor leagues: a solid, but slow start to the season overall. Bogaerts, however, has struggled in particular with runners in scoring position this past month. The difference in the two stat lines evokes Jekyl and Hyde, as I wrote for WEEI. But there are two parts to the 21-year-old shortstop's difficulties with men on base and runners in scoring position: the adjustment to significantly better major league pitching, and a low BABIP.
Manager John Farrell says that the adjustment to better pitching is still ongoing for both Bogaerts and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.
"I wouldn't just limit it to the quality of the off speed," Farrell said prior to Wednesday's contest with the Reds. "It's also the execution and the location. I had a conversation with Jackie after the [Manny] Parra at-bat and he said, 'Those pitches are un-hittable.' They're un-hittable because they're in spots in the strike zone that are well executed and quality pitches and I can say that without much reservation, I can say those guys are facing things for the first time in those key moments in the game that they haven't faced in the minor league level and that's part of the growing experience."
Similarly, Bogaerts has noticed an uptick in the number of breaking balls he has seen in his at-bats.
"See the ball, hit the ball," Bogaerts said. "I don’t know what’s been going on. I guess I’m not swinging at good pitches. Pitchers are throwing me a lot of breaking balls and I’m getting a bit of break sometimes with the umpires too so sometimes all odds are against you."
After going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts against the Reds Tuesday night, Bogaerts will get Wednesday off against righty Mike Leake, who has been extremely tough on right-handed batters (.210 batting average against, .238 on-base percentage).
"I wouldn't say a mental breather," Farrell said. "He expanded the strike zone on one at-bat when we had the bases loaded. They're giving him a heavy dose of breaking balls but I think it's more just situational with the opposition in Leake tonight and really getting Herrera back in the game where it's been eight or nine days since he's been there."
Farrell believes that Bogaerts' expanding of the strike zone with runners on base has developed into a bad habit, leading to his lack of success.
"There's more expansion of the strike zone, especially up with the fastball and off the plate and away with the breaking ball," Farrell said. "Where we've seen a selective, patient approach with nobody on base, there might be more of a tendency to swing the bat with runners on base."
Bogaerts' lack of success with runners in scoring position also partially has to do with his well-below average BABIP in those particular situations. Bogaerts has posted a .167 BABIP with RISP while posting a .447 BABIP with the bases empty, an indication that luck has not been on his side. Hitting coach Greg Colbrunn is happy with the approach Bogaerts is taking at the plate.
"He’s doing well overall," Colbrunn said. "He’s swinging the bat good, seeing a lot of pitches and drawing walks. He might be pressing just a little with runners in scoring position, but for the most part, he’s stayed within himself and we’re going to continue to do what we’re doing and just try to concentrate on keeping positive."
"What’s going on right now is that things aren’t falling," Bogaerts said. "The hits aren’t coming when I need them, but it’ll turn around. You can’t keep a good man down for too long.""
Colbrunn thinks Bogaerts' attitude towards the game every day will bring him out of his struggles at the plate with runners in scoring position.
"He’s fearless," Colbrunn said. "That’s the thing we love about him. He goes up there and very comfortable when he gets to the plate and is not scared. It’s positive. He goes up there and you let him go."
But don't tell Bogaerts he's in a slump. To him, it's more of a funk than anything.
"Slump? This is a slump?" Bogaerts said with puzzlement. "It is what it is. I’ll bounce back. It’s a matter of time and I’ll get rolling."
Colbrunn believes that with a larger sample size, Bogaerts' numbers with runners in scoring position will continue to improve.
"It’s a short sample size right now," Colbrunn said. "He could get three hits with runners in scoring position tomorrow. Averages can change with the sample sizes so he’s trying to go out there and have a good at-bat and not try to do too much."