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Xander Bogaerts’ leap to greatness has held in the second half

It’s a nice change from the last two years.

Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox

Earlier this week, I looked at what I believe has been one of the biggest differences between this year’s great team and last year’s very good squad. That was David Price, who proved once again on Wednesday that the dude is good. Of course, as I acknowledged in the linked post, the offense has really been the difference between the two squads. The bats are a much bigger threat this year, and justifiably most of the hype has been in the two stars competing for MVP votes. That said, the star power hasn’t been quite as overwhelming in the second half (though Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez have still obviously been outstanding) and some other guys have taken the spotlight at different times. Through all of that, there’s only been one guy to really stand out other than the MVP candidates, however. That’s been Xander Bogaerts, who has stepped up this year however and whenever the team has needed him. That he’s doing this in the second half is a huge difference from earlier in his career, and it shows that his development might be complete.

Even before looking at the half-by-half splits, this has just generally been a breakout year for Bogaerts, and it’s been apparent for a while now. The shortstop was hurt by a loaded class at his position and missed out on an All-Star berth this summer, but we’ll look back at this season as an All-Star-caliber campaign with or without the invitation. Now, obviously Bogaerts was not bad coming into this year, nor was he anything close to it. But breakouts aren’t always players going from bad to good. In many cases, and in what’s arguably the more difficult jump, he has made a leap from good to great in 2018. After being a good hitter, but one who was much different from the high-ceiling beast we foresaw in his prospect days, he’s taken the best of his contact-oriented younger days and added in the power we were all hoping for from his minor-league days. The result has been amazing to watch.

Overall, Bogaerts has played in 124 games and has come to the plate 532 times so far this year, and he is hitting .289/.361/.522 for a 134 wRC+, meaning he’s been 34 percent better than the league-average hitter this year. Again, Betts and Martinez understandably get the hype in this lineup, but Bogaerts has been a top-20 hitter this year and his wRC+ is tied with superstars like Francisco Lindor and Nolan Arenado. That’s....impressive. The difference, at least from last year, has been his willingness to attack. Bogaerts will still take a walk if the pitcher is not interested in throwing him strikes, but after swinging at just 53 percent of pitches in the zone last year (per Fangraphs), he’s upped the rate to 61 percent this year. He’s done this while swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone. That’ll do.

MLB: Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

More than the new attack-oriented approach and even the power in general, though, what has stood out to me about Bogaerts’ season is that he’s kept it going in the second half. In the past, we’ve seen the Red Sox shortstop compete for a spot on the All-Star team — and make the roster in 2016 — before slowing down in the second half. Over the last two years we’ve seen his wRC+ drop by over 30 points from the first half to the second half. Now, injuries have played a role in this so most of us knew this wasn’t necessarily the path Bogaerts was always going to take. By no means did people write off the possibility of him keeping up production all year, but at the same time he was one year away from his second-half falters coming three seasons in a row. At that point, it’s a trend, no?

Well, any fears we may have been holding in the back of our minds have dissipated in 2018. In his age-25 season, the Red Sox shortstop has maintained the same level of production, almost exactly, after the All-Star break. It hasn’t come in exactly the same fashion, but after posting a 134 wRC+ in the first half, that mark has dropped just two points in the second half. Now, he’s walking more post All-Star break and hitting for a little less power, but the end result has been largely the same. He’s coming up with big hits and, hitting in the middle of this Red Sox lineup, he’s coming through in a whole lot of his opportunities with runners in scoring position.

The Red Sox have had a lot of things go right this season, and it’s been a truly incredible year. You can go up and down the roster and find so many people — from David Price to Xander Bogaerts to Mookie Betts to Alex Cora to Dave Dombrowski — to which we can attribute this great run. The reality is that trying to pin it on one person does a disservice to the group we’ve watched all year. That said, even if he hasn’t been the sole reason for Boston’s historic 2018, Bogaerts has taken a leap from good to great this season, and he’s held his gains in the second half. It’s been fun to watch.