Welcome to BP Boston’s Roster Recap series! Over the next four months, we’ll be breaking down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.
Xander Bogaerts is not who we thought he was. At least not yet.
Billed as a power-hitting wunderkind who could fake it at short but was destined for third base, Bogaerts functioned as a line-drive hitter and good defensive shortstop in 2015. This was a massive improvement from 2014, of course, when Bogaerts didn’t function as an impatient batter, couldn’t make high-pressure throws and was as crippled by the existence of a Drew brother as anyone this side of Dennis and Callahan.
So, how do you evaluate a post-uber-prospect who provides a ton of value at a young age but who doesn’t provide it in the ways you thought he would? Good question! I look forward to finding out.
WHAT WENT RIGHT IN 2015
So many things. It’s tempting to start with defense, but let’s start with the bat. Xander hit .320/.355/.421 last season, good for a wRC+ of 109 and a BWARP of 3.5. Yes, he rode a .372 BABIP and yes, his BB% fell to 4.9, but this is the positive section, damnit, so let’s also mention his 10/12 SB/CS, his 32.0% Oppo%, his new swing and his .365/.424/.468 overall line against southpaws.
For a little league-wide context, Xander finished fifth overall in average (second in the AL) and was the 41st-hardest qualified batter to strike out. He hit the most doubles (35) among all shortstops and the second-most hits of anyone in the AL. The average MLB shortstop hit .256/.307/.375. Again, Xander hit .320/.355/.421. Let’s put that in a chart:
Xander was really good, you guys.
You see how I compared Bogaerts to other shortstops above? The reason that’s so great is because Bogaerts is at least a clear-cut average defensive shortstop now — maybe even better — and that was fairly unfathomable about 12 months ago. We can touch on defensive metrics (-2.7 UZR, -10.4 FRAA in ‘14, 1.0 UZR, -1.4 FRAA in ‘15), but all you really need is the eye test. Bogaerts appeared infinitely more comfortable ranging to his right, was much more reliable on difficult, rushed throws and had the overall look of a legitimate field general that he so sorely lacked as he stumbled between shortstop and third base in his rookie season. See what I mean?
Is Brian Butterfield the GOAT? Brian Butterfield might be the GOAT.
Anyway, you add all this up and Xander was the third-best shortstop in the league by fWAR and the fourth best shortstop in the league by BWARP. Not bad for a kid who turned 23 in October.
WHAT WENT WRONG IN 2015
Where’d your power go, dude? After slugging 12 homers and posting a .123 ISO in his down 2014 season, Xander hit just seven homers and posted a .101 ISO last year. Those are odd numbers for a manchild who posted ISOs in the 200s all throughout his MiLB career until Pawtucket.
As we mentioned above, there’s also the matter of Xander’s .372 BABIP and his 4.9 BB%, plus the fact that his LD% only increased one percentage point between 2014 and 2015. If you go by TAv, Bogaerts was only at .266 last year. Are we nitpicking? Yes, but it’s certainly worth mentioning that not every peripheral indicates that Bogaerts is due for a repeat in 2015, as horrible person but occasionally adept writer Matt Collins outlined here.
In a nutshell, nothing went wrong for Bogaerts in 2015. We just don’t know how right it will go in the future.
OUTLOOK FOR 2016
There are a few intriguing possibilities in play here. The first is that 2015 represents who Xander really is now; a high-average, doubles-power, 45/50-grade defensive shortstop with upside. Perhaps not a transcendent player, but certainly a building block.
The other option? Bogaerts learns how to balance his contact-based approach while tapping into some of his sweet, beautiful, effortless power, turning several of his doubles into homers and becoming a true stud. Imagine, say, .290/.340/.500 from a solid defensive shortstop? That’s just short of Vintage Tulo, and just short of Vintage Tulo is the upside we’re looking at here.
*There is a third option — Bogaerts could regress.
Maybe Bogaerts won’t make huge gains in 2016. He’s still just 23, and it’s entirely possible that he won’t hit his offensive stride for two or three more years. But he’s shown the poise, improvement and natural abilities to continue to challenge Mookie Betts as Boston’s best young player, and he’s damn close to becoming a household name even outside of New England.
Told you so.
Photo by Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports Images