One of my least favorite things I see today in media (and I’m guilty of it as well, I’m sure) is when people with a platform say “Not enough people are talking about [blank].” Like, the exact reason to have a platform is that you get to talk about what you want to talk about, for the most part anyway. So if you want people to talk about a thing, the way to do it is to start talking about that thing and hope other people follow suit. Again, I’m pretty certain I’ve done this same thing so this is certainly not directed at anyone in particular. In fact, I’m going to do it again, so maybe it’s directed at me.
But until very recently, by which I mean the last week or so, not enough people around the game talked about how good Xander Bogaerts is. It’s a bit strange because is the best player on a team that has had plenty of success over his career, and he plays a marquee position. You would think that’s a recipe for being overrated, not under. And yet Bogaerts, who has been so good for so long, is only now seemingly getting his due, and even now I’m not sure it’s enough.
It’s not hard to see why he might not get the credit he deserves being on par with some of the other biggest stars in the league. His game is a bit understated, with no one quality shining through, and his personality is as well. That’s not to say he’s boring because he’s clearly one of the most well-liked players on the team, but he doesn’t really stand out from the crowd on or off the field. (To be clear, there is obviously nothing wrong with standing out from the crowd.) On top of that, he’s been overshadowed by various players throughout his career, whether it be David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia or Mookie Betts or even early this season with J.D. Martinez. There’s always been someone else, and when there hasn’t it’s been a year like 2020 when no one paid attention.
People are paying attention now, and he is getting some of the hype he’s deserved for his entire career. Bogaerts is off to a ridiculous start this season, hitting .341/.395/.578 for a 169 wRC+. In other words, by this metric at least he’s been 69 percent better than the league-average hitter. That is bananas good, especially considering he plays perhaps the most important non-catcher position in the lineup. And while his production this year is a bit outsized compared to the rest of his career, he’s been at least 30 percent better than league-average at the plate every year since 2018.
So with all of that being said, it’s a natural question to wonder where he ranks among shortstops in baseball. We’re living in an era with a ton of great shortstops around the league, and it’s never really seemed like Bogaerts has gotten his due in the conversation about who’s the best. That’s especially true recently given the class of shortstops entering free agency next winter, of which Bogaerts is not part. But in terms of production, there’s an argument for him to be at the top.
Offensively, I think at this point we can say he’s the best hitting shortstop in baseball. At the very least, he’s in the top two. If you go back to 2018 — a favorable sample for him, but also one that makes sense considering we typically go back three years, but with 2020 being shortened going back a fourth makes sense — not many shortstops are really close to his 139 wRC+. The only two that are would be Fernando Tatis Jr., who is actually ahead of him, and Bo Bichette, who’s at 130. However, they also haven’t played nearly as many games as they are just starting their careers.
The problem with Bogaerts in terms of him ranking at the very top of this list is obviously the defense, and I don’t think we have as sure of a measure here as we do with offense. Depending on what you look at or who you ask, Bogaerts can be anything from one of the very worst defensive players in baseball to slightly better than average. If you ask me, which you didn’t but I’m the one speaking so I’ll butt in anyway, I say he’s a bit below average. I don’t think he kills you like Defensive Runs Saved would suggest, but I also think he’s in the bottom half of the league. So the real question to answer this bigger question about shortstop rankings in a way comes down to how much below-average defense cancels out elite offense.
There’s no objectively correct answer to this, of course, although people certainly try to make that way with WAR. Given the issues with defensive metrics, I don’t view WAR as a definitive ranking (nor do I think many people feel that way) but it can be a good barometer. So again going back to 2018, Bogaerts leads all shortstops in fWAR and he’s third on bWAR. Again, these are not perfect measures, but they indicate to me a guy who has to be at least in the conversation for best shortstop in the game.
And so here’s the group that I think you have to put as the top tier, and then you can choose the order from there:
- Tatis Jr.
- Trea Turner
- Trevor Story
- Francisco Lindor
- Corey Seager
That’s a group of six elite shortstops — you can make arguments for Javy Báez, Carlos Correa, Bo Bichette, or Gleyber Torres being in the bottom part of that list as well, but I don’t think they have any argument for the top so I’m not including them — with whom you can’t really go wrong. I think one could make a fair argument for any of these guys at the top of the list.
But the mission of this post was to find a spot for Bogaerts. Again, this is subjective and really the kind of thing that is meant to lead to fun discussion rather than find a scientific answer. That said, I think I’d put Bogaerts third behind Tatis Jr. and Turner. For now. I might have a different answer tomorrow.