Welcome to the annual Over The Monster One Big Question season preview series. Over the next 40(ish) days, we will be running through every player on the Boston Red Sox 40-man roster and identifying a key question for them pertaining to the coming season. We will go through the roster in alphabetical order. For the most part, these will run Monday through Friday every week running up to the week before Opening Day, at least as things are scheduled right now. Obviously, the lockout may change the timing of the season, and it also means we will likely see more additions of new faces. If need be, we will add some weekend posts to fit any and all additions to the 40-man before Opening Day. You can catch up with every post by following this link. With that, today we cover Xander Bogaerts.
The Question: Can Xander Bogaerts reach his 2019 power numbers again?
Xander Bogaerts has become one of the great models of consistency in all of baseball. On his FanGraphs page it is remarkable to see the lack of ebbs and flows in his career for all types of metrics, and because of that, there is little difference in each of the projection models for his 2022 season. In a feature that seems to be expanding by the day (there are currently seven projection systems listed on FanGraphs), there is little variability for Bogaerts, or as ATC projections’ Ariel Cohen calls it, a low “Inter-Projection Standard Deviation.” Bogaerts’ projections range from 24-28 home runs, 85-94 RBI, 9.9 percent to 10.4 percent in walk rate, and 18.0 to 18.5 percent in strikeout rate.. The slash line ranges from .276/.354/.473 (Steamer) on the low end to .290/.364/.504 (The BAT) on the high. There’s just not much difference at all between these.
Throughout his consistent career, there is one season that definitely stood out from the rest, and it occurred in 2019, a season that, if the Red Sox had made the playoffs, perhaps Bogaerts might have taken a better run at the MVP. Ultimately he finished fifth in voting, finishing the year with a .309/.384/.555 line to go with 33 HR, 117 RBI, 110 runs, and 52 doubles; the RBI and doubles both were good for second in the American League.
So, does Bogaerts have another 30/100 season in him? It’s a simple milestone with some round numbers, but is a fair cutoff for the elite power hitters in baseball. There were a total of 17 hitters who went 30/100 in 2021. No matter how slow of a start that David Ortiz got off to, he found a way to get to around 30/100, incredibly hitting that milestone in each of his final four major league seasons. To give some perspective of how impressive of a season Bogaerts had in 2019 from a power standpoint, his 33/117 outperformed every Ortiz season from 2008 to 2013.
It’s important to remember that the ball was juiced in 2019. 53 hitters had 30 or more home runs, but only 21 of those players also had 100 RBI. The doubles were a huge driver for RBI with Bogaerts that season and a lot of that came from using the entire field. Splitting the field in half, 18 of his 52 doubles (35 percent) were sent to center and right field, as opposed to 2021 where 10 of his 34 doubles (29 percent) were in that direction. It’s consistent with Bogaerts’ pull rate on FanGraphs.
Not a major gap, but enough of a discrepancy that could be the difference in two or three home runs over a long season. It’s so easy to want to take aim at the Monster, but using the entire field opens up so many avenues for counting stats. Take a couple of outside pitches to right-center and then yank one to left when the pitcher tries to work the inner-half.
Next up is health. Of course, to reach a milestone like 30/100, Bogaerts will need to stay healthy the entire season. In 2019, he played in 155 games with 698 plate appearances, roughly 16 percent more than the 603 PAs in 2021. Bogaerts dealt with two issues in the second half last season that contributed to that lower number, one being COVID, which I would suggest looking elsewhere for insight on how to avoid that virus. The other was a nagging wrist injury that Bogaerts tried to play through as much as he could, but certainly sapped his power in the second half. Coincidentally, it was his 10-day break after testing positive for COVID that forced him to sit out and get right for September and October. If you cut Bogaerts’ season in half right at game 81 before his miserable month of July, Bogaerts was hitting .330 with 13 HR and 48 RBI. In terms of on-pace for the numbers we’re talking about, pretty close!
Finally, and if we were talking about the off-the-field One Big Question it would certainly be around the fact that Bogaerts is very likely entering a contract year with an opt-out opportunity at the end of 2022. He is also entering his age-29 season and, depending on who you listen to, the end of his “prime”. A 29-year-old entering free agency who happens to use Scott Boras as his agent sounds like the kind of player who would be rather motivated to put up an MVP-caliber season. For example, using a new Scott Boras client for comparison, take a look at Carlos Correa’s contract year on Baseball-Reference compared to his previous seasons. Since WAR is suddenly a hot topic in measuring players for labor disputes, Boras would rather point to a 6.8 fWAR season like 2019, than a 5.2 fWAR from 2021 (6.3 vs 4.9 for bWAR).
The Bogaerts contract year is the unfortunate elephant in the room, and we have discussed it in a couple of different roundtables and podcasts this offseason. Another elite power season in 2022 would surely drive up the cost of his services going forward, while at the moment continuing to provide a threat in the heart of the order alongside Rafael Devers and JD Martinez. Red Sox fans hope to see both Bogaerts and Devers in that spot for several more years, especially once Triston Casas arrives to protect them both. Here’s to seeing that happen in 2023 and beyond.