Back when Xander Bogaerts was a wee lil’ prospect, a lot of evaluations of him ended up saying that he projected really well and was someone to dream on. Most notably, his power at the shortstop position was incredibly valuable, not to mention amazing to behold. He makes good contact, has a good arm, and fields his position more than acceptably – and even improved tremendously in that aspect in 2015, bumping up his FRAA over eight points from its 2014 total.
That’s four of the five basic tools covered, with the last one being his speed. The evaluations on his baserunning were – well, the baserunning was there. He could run the bases at an average pace. The speed was a literal non-factor, and even Sox Prospects said that his running was “not a major part of his game”. Many other lead prospecting sources agreed. They were right, at least until now.
This isn’t a dig on talent evaluators at all – considering they’re all much better at what they do than I am. But it does seem like Bogaerts has turned his average-at-best baserunning talent into a legitimate weapon, and he might be getting even more dangerous when he’s on base.
Bogaerts has turned his average-at-best baserunning talent into a legitimate weapon, and he might be getting even more dangerous when he’s on base.
It’s a bit strange saying that since we’ve all waited for his power to come around. Granted, Bogaerts is already a good – if not great – hitter, and asking for more almost seems greedy. The power is what we’ve expected and wanted to see. The baserunning? That doesn’t get the same reaction. A breakout in this part of his skillset would be very unexpected, but not unwelcome. The thinking was that Mookie Betts was going to be the guy who might have a couple 20-20 seasons, but Bogaerts might do that himself if this keeps progressing.
Last year, Bogaerts stole 10 bases, which placed him tenth among all shortstops. That’s not terribly impressive, but the advanced stats tell the story here: Bogaerts was 13th in the majors in Baserunning Runs. Even Baseball Reference gave him high marks, as he was five runs above average as a baserunner according to them, which put him among guys like Adam Eaton and Charlie Blackmon – two guys who combined for 61 stolen bases last year. Bogaerts and those two outfielders finished tied for 10th in the majors according to B-Ref.
Bogaerts obviously doesn’t have Billy Hamilton speed, so how does he get such high marks? He’s smart when he’s on base. Todd Frazier and Paul Goldschmidt aren’t the fastest guys either, but both of them totaled 30 or more stolen bases over the last two seasons because they were savvy on the basepaths. Bogaerts looks to be progressing in the same way.
Let’s take a deeper look at a base he swiped in 2015.
The pitcher, Mike Tonkin, doesn’t look at Bogaerts when he comes set. Tonkin also has a long enough windup for someone to get a good jump, so Bogaerts decides to take off. Now, I realize that Kurt Suzuki is not a paragon of defense behind the plate, but even if that throw is straight toward second base, he’s not getting Bogaerts. Great instincts combined with good perception got him that base. He noticed the pitcher isn’t paying attention and that his windup takes some time, and on top of that, he got a good jump to seal the deal. That’s how you run smart.
Last night in Atlanta, Bogaerts tallied two stolen bases. The first one was a pretty gutsy steal of second. Matt Wisler had already thrown over to first once, and checked on him before coming set. Then Bogaerts took off, challenging Tyler Flowers, who isn’t a bad catcher when it comes to throwing out runners, but he’s nothing to write home about either. While Flowers is catching the pitch and getting the throw off to second, Bogaerts had already covered roughly 50 feet.
In other words, Flowers ain’t gonna get him. The throw was off-line anyway.
Bogaerts took advantage of a catcher who wasn’t good at controlling baserunners, even though Wisler was trying to bear down on him from the mound. That’s pretty impressive.
The other swipe was a straight steal of third with two outs, which is pretty damn risky by any stretch of the imagination. This time, the pitcher was Hunter Cervenka, a former Sox farmhand who had totaled 4 2/3 innings pitched in the majors by that time. Cervenka is like Tonkin from earlier – his windup is somewhat long. So long, in fact, that Bogaerts had time to get a great jump and even look to home plate.
Oh yeah. That’s Xander over there, having covered about 60 feet between second and third, stealing a glance at Flowers as he sets his feet (slowly, again).
If you couldn’t have guessed by now, Bogaerts beat the throw really easily. He was already coming up from the ground as the tag came down. This was a combination of the first two examples: Bogaerts took advantage of a long windup and a catcher who can’t control who’s on the bases. Stealing third isn’t the best idea, but the benefit of hindsight gives some relief.
It’s getting more and more apparent that Bogaerts wants to make baserunning a bigger part of his game. From what we’ve seen since the beginning of the 2015 season, he’s done so, and in a big way. It might not be too apparent, but Bogaerts has simply does not make outs on the bases. Everything is a calculated risk. For what it’s worth, he’s also on pace for 30 stolen bases, so if that doesn’t get any attention, no amount of running will.
We’d all thought Bogaerts would be breaking out again with the appearance of his power. Instead, we’re seeing Bogaerts the baserunner burst out of the gates. Bogaerts is already good, and by creating a skill out of what we thought was nothing, he’s getting even better.
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