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If Xander Bogaerts is ‘back,’ he never really left

The season is too young to draw long-term conclusions, no matter how exciting they look.

To be clear, I hope he rules all season long.

The Red Sox are 6-1 and have gotten there via generally excellent pitching and the timely hitting of Hanley Ramirez and Xander Bogaerts, mostly, leading to general speculation that the latter two -- Bogaerts especially -- are “back.” I think it’s far too early to say as much, less for the sake of being a buzzkill than the sake of being consistent but yeah, a little of both.

It is seductive to read long-term trends into eight days’ worth of performance. I have done it with the offense in general, and I was probably wrong. I wrote yesterday that the Sox’s “new” aggressive approach at the plate didn’t seem to be working, at which point @AJ_Gullotta schooled me with a long-term mathematical theory behind the approach. You can read the entire thread starting here if you want, but my general takeaway was that a more aggressive approach would be more productive... if Sox batters actually took it. As of right now, they’re still relatively passive, though not nearly as passive as last season, when they were dead last at swinging at pitches in the strike zone.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are still having trouble scoring runs! J.D. Martinez has yet to homer, Andrew Benintendi started 0-11 and Jackie Bradley Jr. is sitting on a sub-Pokey Reese-ian .467 OPS. Bradley’s long-term offensive potential is mixed, but he’s certainly better than that, and the chances of Martinez missing home runs at this rate, going forward, are near-literally zero, only slightly lower than the odds of Benintendi slugging .167 for the year.

In all three of these cases, the players are hitting well below their historical baseline or any realistic one going forward. In all three of these cases, it’s easy to recognize that what we see now isn’t necessarily what we’re going to get. In the cases of Martinez and Benintendi, it’s almost certainly not.

That is certainly encouraging for a team that’s a blown save away from being undefeated, even if all the wins have come against weaksauce Florida teams. Similarly encouraging, to say the least, are the contributions of Bogaerts (a stellar .989 OPS) and Ramirez (a timely .816). But you know where I’m going: if we can’t extrapolate too much from the mediocre performances, we should not extrapolate too much from the good ones.

To be sure, I have been encouraged by Bogey’s performance and enchanted by Hanley’s, and to be clear, writers only use “to be sure” when they know they’re in a tough spot and are trying to meet their readers near the middle. That is certainly true here, not leastwise because I love Good Hanley quite a bit, but also because Hanley hasn’t been *great* so far, overall; the great part about his numbers so far is that the hits have come at the ends of big games. I’ll take it!

Bogaerts is the trickier case simply because we came into the year expecting him to define his career arc, and all he’s done through the first week-plus is hit like vintage Alex Rodriguez. For Xander stans, this stretch has served as a validation, obvious sample-size issues be damned. Speculation is powerful, powerful drug. To declare or speculate that Bogaerts is “back” based on a five percent return of the season is to gleefully announce, in so many words, that you are balls-to-the-wall-stoned on the good stuff.

And you know what? That’s cool! Bogaerts has given us every reason to be optimistic. Baseball exists for us to be rational at times and irrational at others, and, in the latter cases, to be called out on it by buttheads lik me. The idea that Bogaerts might already be “back” is, while fun, irrational. There simply hasn’t enough time to prove it. If he’s already “back,” he never really went anywhere in the first place, because there’s no way he could have finished the round-trip by now.

This has nothing to do with what I want, which is for Bogey to tie for second-place in the MVP award voting with all other members of the Red Sox who aren’t Bobby Poyner (who’d win). It has also nothing to do with what I expect, which is Bogaerts to be, yes, quite good, and certainly better than last year based on regression alone, not to mention his age and natural skill level. Let’s not mark X’s spot just yet.