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Appreciating Xander Bogaerts for who he is

Trying to put aside my expectations and just appreciate the talent.

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Everyone knows the concept of two siblings who have vastly different personality types and in turn have two wildly varying sets of expectations put upon them by their parents. There’s the overachiever, who seems to do everything right and brings home high grades on a daily basis. Then, there’s the slacker. They get in trouble at every turn and bring home disappointing marks almost every day of school. All of this leads to one day in which both the overachiever and the slacker come home with a C+ and they get completely different reactions. The overachiever is sent to his room before getting a lecture about how disappointed his parents are. The slacker is given a pat on the back for clearly studying so hard. Two siblings with the same grade, but differing expectations lead to differing reactions. It’s clearly not fair to let expectations wholly impact how you react to someone’s achievements, but it’s only a natural response.

All of this brings us to Xander Bogaerts, who is far better than a C+ paper but still has fallen short of expectations, at least in my eyes. To me, he is the extreme example of an overachiever, except instead of a student he filled that role as a prospect coming up through the ranks in the Red Sox farm system. Part of the issue, which is entirely with me, is that Bogaerts was really the first prospect I got super excited about. While I’ve been a big baseball fan for about as long as I can remember, my interest in the minor leagues is a more recent fascination.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Boston Red Sox Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

When the young shortstop was coming up through the system, he was putting up numbers against minor-league competition that could suggest he was going to be a star. Checking the box score of whatever level he was at was quickly becoming a favorite part of my day. Even better, the scouting reports backed it up. The people who were tasked with watching and evaluating as many minor-league players as possible were confident that Bogaerts was among the best they saw all year. Essentially, he was a can’t-miss prospect who was flying through the system at a young age. It’s hard to keep expectations in check when that’s happening.

Fast-forward to today, and Bogaerts is already in his fourth full season as a major leaguer. (Where does the time go? We are all ancient.) Over this first part of his career, I feel like I’ve been as hard or harder on him than just about anyone, and it circles back to the idea of high expectations leading to harsher judgement. I found myself expecting a transcendent talent at the shortstop position who was going to his for power and average while also drawing plenty of walks. In other words, I found myself expecting an annual MVP candidate and was letting that cloud my judgement of the player I was actually watching. Although Bogaerts hasn’t been the type of player I expected him to be, he’s been an outstanding talent and is a big reason the Red Sox are one of the scariest teams in the American League. It is time for me, and people of my ilk, to start appreciating the player that Bogaerts has turned into.

Since the start of the 2015 season, Boston’s young shortstop is hitting .308/.356/.432 for a 111 wRC+. In other words, after adjusting for park factors, he has been 11 percent better than the league-average hitter. For context, the league-average shortstop over that time has put up a wRC+ of roughly 89. This has helped him turn into a consistent three-to-four win player, which makes him safely above-average and at least a borderline All-Star on a yearly basis.

What’s strange, and the biggest reason that I haven’t been able to appreciate how good he’s been, has been the way in which he’s put up this production. Instead of being that power hitter he threatened to be as a minor-leaguer, he’s more of a slap hitter. Bogaerts has gotten outstanding at taking pitches wherever they are thrown and hitting line drives for singles. He has a .355 batting average on balls in play since the start of 2015, and while that would seem like luck in a smaller sample size, at this point it’s just who he is. He hits a ton of line drives and has become adept at using the whole field. He’s also making a ton of contact, striking out just 16 percent of the time in that span while the league is continuously striking out in more than 20 percent of their plate appearances. This all goes without mentioning how much he’s improved with the glove. Bogaerts still has some defensive lapses, but he’s turned into at least an average shortstop who should stick there for the foreseeable future.

On the flip side, he hasn’t really hit for much power. He’s gone through streaks of doing so — most notably during the first half of last season — but overall he’s been a little below-average in terms of power. Since 2015, his Isolated Power is just .124. For context, that mark would have put him right between Yadier Molina and Brandon Phillips on the 2016 leaderboard. He also hasn’t really drawn a ton of walks, with a rate of just 6.5 percent since 2015. As with the power stroke, he’s been able to go through stretches of drawing walks, but overall his on-base percentage has largely rested on his ability to convert balls in play into hits.

For all the data we have on Bogaerts and how used to him at shortstop we’ve gotten, we’re still talking about an incredibly young player. This is just his age-24 season. Thus, it’s not at all out of the question that he’ll still turn into the player we were expecting him to be when he first broke into the majors. It goes without saying that this would be awesome, particularly if he held on to much of his ability to get hits. Even if he doesn’t, though, he’s already a great player. Even if he stays the same player he’s been in the early part of his career, Bogaerts will be one of the best shortstops in baseball. The Red Sox are lucky to have him on their roster, and we’re lucky to watch him on a daily basis. It’s time to start appreciating that fact, even if you are like me and placed some impossible expectations on him before his career started.