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Xander Bogaerts: Forever overshadowed

He’s surrounded by so much talent everywhere, but he’s right there with it.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

After losing three in a row for just the second time all season, the Red Sox and their slumping offense got off the schneid on Wednesday. Unlike how these things normally go with Mookie Betts and/or J.D. Martinez leading the way, this time it was Xander Bogaerts. Granted, the entire lineup hit well including the two stars, but Bogaerts was on another level and he carried the team to victory in this game, at least as much as any one player could carry them to victory. It got me to thinking about the appreciation level for the Red Sox shortstop. Generally, I think the idea of “under/over appreciated” players is overblown. It’s like the over/underrated conversation where if you mention it enough it can’t continue to be true. In this case specifically, people know Bogaerts is good. If you go to Fenway and ask for the best players on the team it wouldn’t take all that long before the 25-year-old is mentioned. He’s not quite underappreciated. Overshadowed, though? That’s a different story.

Bogaerts is, to put it mildly, having a nice year at the plate. To put it more realistically, he is having his very best season even. The righty is, as of Thursday morning, hitting .282/.357/.530 for a 134 wRC+, meaning he’s been 34 percent better than the league-average hitter. That’s easily the best he’s ever been in his major-league career, and it’s made him the 26th-best qualified hitter in the game between two guys named Bryce Harper and Joey Votto. That seems pretty good!

Bogaerts has changed his game just enough to take things to the next level. We’ve always known he had the potential for something like this, but there was at least some doubt that it would ever come to fruition. It’s not that he was a bad player before this season — he wasn’t close to bad — but he wasn’t the power-hitting shortstop most of us expected. Instead, the righty relied on contact and singles to post good on-base percentages with fine-to-below-average power numbers. This year, he’s kept the contact and on-base skills, as he’s posting the best walk rate of his career and his best strikeout rate since 2015. In addition to that, he’s added the power in a big way. The new coaching staff’s style and J.D. Martinez’ influence has certainly played a role, but Bogaerts deserves credit too. Given some tools to help him make the leap, he’s implemented them perfectly and he’s posting a .248 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG) on the year. That’s almost 100 points better than his previous career-high, and it puts him just ahead of guys like Edwin Encarnacion and Rhys Hoskins on the leaderboard. Seems good!

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Even the defense has been better than it gets credit for, and he continues to make strides in the field. Granted, he’s never going to win a Gold Glove at the position, but his footwork looks better than ever, he’s ranging fairly well and his throws have been more accurate. He’s an average shortstop that you don’t feel bad about having out there, and with his bad that is more than fine. In fact, if WAR is your thing, fWAR has Bogaerts as the 15th most valuable player in baseball this year, right behind NL MVP candidate Lorenzo Cain.

So, yeah, he’s been very good at the task of playing baseball in 2018. I’m pretty confident in saying that, and I think if you asked most people whether or not Bogaerts has been good at baseball they would agree. This is not controversial. And yet, it’s hard not to feel bad for him because things are just set up for him not to get the spotlight he deserves. On his own team, he’s surrounded by legitimately elite talent that steals the headlines, and deservedly so. J.D. Martinez is in the conversation for being the best hitter in baseball, and he’s having the best year of his career. Mookie Betts might be the MVP favorite and might be the best non-Trout player in all of baseball. Chris Sale could be the best pitcher in baseball. Hell, even Andrew Benintendi (who, to be fair, has been just about equal to Bogaerts this year) probably has a little more star power. Based on his interactions with the media, I don’t think the shortstop minds, but I do dammit.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The worst part is that it’s not only being surrounded by bananas star power on his own roster that leaves Bogaerts in the shadows. There’s another big tree over him in the form of the other shortstops around the league. As many have noted in recent years, we may be in a Golden Age at the position. Bogaerts is certainly a big part of that, but he’s in the middle of a big group that also includes the likes of Francisco Lindor, Manny Machado, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Didi Gregorius and Andrelton Simmons. Bogaerts deserves every bit of mentioning in that group, of course, but that’s not an easy pack from which he can separate himself. Put it this way: It’s hard to expect many Silver Sluggers or Gold Gloves when that’s your competition.

Ultimately, as I say, I don’t think this matters to Bogaerts and it doesn’t really matter to, well, anything. We know Bogaerts is good. His teammates know Bogaerts is good. The league knows Bogaerts is good. Bogaerts knows Bogaerts is good. It just, well, it just feels like he should get more press. He’s a shortstop hitting like a left fielder while playing solid defense at the position. It feels like he should get more press, but so many factors conspire against him in that respect. I suppose he’ll have to settle for hitting in the middle of the best team in baseball’s lineup. Sucks for him.