Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss Xander Bogaerts.
On the whole, I imagine most would look back on 2017 as a negative year for Xander Bogaerts, and that is entirely fair. I will not fight you on this point. That being said, although there were some really low points there were plenty of things to be happy about with the young shortstop as well. First and foremost, as has been a theme throughout his career, is that Bogaerts’ plate discipline gives him a solid baseline at the plate. For the third consecutive season, the Red Sox shortstop finished the year with a strikeout rate under 20 percent, a trend that becomes all the more impressive with each passing year. In 2017, the league struck out at a rate of 21.6 percent, for context. On top of that lack of strikeouts, Bogaerts walked 8.8 percent of the time in 2017, the second straight year he saw an increase in walk rate from the previous year. These are positive trends and bode well for his future.
In addition to the plate discipline, Bogaerts also excelled in turning balls in play into hits, something he’s been great at throughout his major-league career. As a solid athlete but far from a burner, he doesn’t really scream high-BABIP player, but that’s what he’s turned into. His .327 batting average on balls in play, while impressive, was actually his lowest mark of the last three years. It also finished in the top-third of the league, though, and is a skill he’s proven to have thanks to an ability to hit line drives, make solid contact (although, as we’ll get to, he wasn’t always consistent in this area), and use the whole field. This, combined with his plate discipline, allowed him to finish with a solid enough 96 wRC+, a mark that put him right in the middle of the pack among qualified shortstops and eight points above the league-average shortstop. It’s not where we want Bogaerts to be, of course, but assuming this is a down year it’s not too bad.
Really, it was a tale of two seasons for Bogaerts. In the first half, he was fantastic and one of the few bright spots on the disappointing offense. There were still issues in his game — again, we’ll get there — but his all-fields approach was firing on all cylinders and he was getting on base at a high clip. At the All-Star break he had posted a 111 wRC+ and was part of the Final Vote to get into the game, a vote he’d end up losing. Still, it was hard to be disappointed with his performance at that point.
Moving away from his hitting, the final positive for Bogaerts came on the basepaths. The Red Sox were a strange baserunning team in 2017 and one that drove many of us crazy with their aggression at times. Still, there were a few really good baserunners, and Bogaerts was sneakily one of them. He’s not a burner and his 15 steals won’t blow anyone away, but he’s a really smart runner and takes the extra base whenever he can. Fangraphs’ baserunning metric had him rated as the fifth-best runner in the league while Baseball Prospectus ranked him seventh.
While 2017 was probably better for Bogaerts than some would give him credit for, for all of the reasons listed above, there were certainly some negatives on the year. Most notable, as is a theme with all of Boston’s lineup, was his power. Coming up through the minors, many envisioned that Bogaerts would be a run producer in the middle of the Red Sox lineup for years to come. Instead, he has turned into more of a slap hitter who rarely hits for extra bases. He finished the year with a disappointing .130 Isolated Power — the 16th lowest mark among 144 qualified hitters — largely due to a ground ball rate hovering around 50 percent all year. We’ve seen before that he has the power when he swings with some lift, but he has yet to find the right balance to get that consistent power while keeping as much of his BABIP ability as possible.
In addition to the lack of power, there were some issues with Bogaerts’ approach that could be seen in the lineup as a whole. On the one hand, this is part of the reason he was able to put up strong strikeout and walk rates, so it’s hard for this to be too much of a negative. Still, his overly-patient approach became pretty infuriating at times. of the 310 players who saw at least 1000 pitches, according to Baseball Prospectus, only 51 swung less frequently than Bogaerts and only 22 swung less frequently at pitches in the zone. It’s great to make pitchers work and see some pitches, but there is a line and Bogaerts seems to have crossed it. Waiting around and watching hittable pitches go by is certainly at least part of the reason he failed to hit for power in 2017.
There’s also the matter of his second half and his inconsistency in general. In a season where the Red Sox desperately needed one of their young, former top prospects to take a step forward and take control of the lineup, Bogaerts failed to do so. As I said, his first half was really good, but he couldn’t keep it up all year and it put the team in a tough spot. It took John Farrell too long to move him down in the lineup — though, he did hit really well in the leadoff spot at the end of the year — and Bogaerts just wasn’t hitting like a middle of the order hitter. He finished the second half with a 77 wRC+ and was particularly bad in July, a month he finished with a wRC+ of 16. This is the part where I bring up the fact that he was hit in the wrist in the middle of this season, and that surely had some effect on his hitting. I think it’s too easy to put all of his struggles on the injury and there are things he can work on to take another step back in the right direction, but his wrist injury certainly played a role.
Finally, there is the matter of Bogaerts’ defense. It’s kind of hard to rate how he is with the glove, because I don’t think he’s a complete black hole at shortstop. Instead, he’s probably closer to average, albeit likely shading towards the below-average side. He struggles with his range at times, particularly towards the second base bag, and his arm accuracy can come and go. A move off the position is not imminent or anything, but the Red Sox really need Bogaerts to either improve his glove or become a consistently above-average hitting shortstop.
The Big Question
Short answer: No.
Longer answer: Bogaerts kind of did the same thing in 2017, where he looked mostly excellent in the first half before struggling mightily in the second half. To make matters even worse, he was worse on both ends with both his highs and lows being worse than they were a year ago. Again, the wrist injury probably played a role in this and it’s hard to say just how much from the outside, but the fact that this has happened two years in a row is a troubling trend.
Looking ahead to 2018
I’ll keep this short because I’ve already gone on a lot longer than I meant to. Basically, there are going to be people who think Bogaerts should be traded this winter and those who will be adamantly against it. I’m closer to the second group than the first, but I think he is arguably the most interesting player on the roster right now and we will have plenty more on him as we continue into the offseason.