I have seen a surprising number of trade proposals from Red Sox fans that include the team’s 25-year-old shortstop. From my view these proposals are not of the “entertain any possible trade” sort. Of course Dave Dombrowski and company should agree to a Mike Trout for Xander Bogaerts swap. The return in a trade matters, so vetoing one simply based on which guys on your team are included is foolhardy. But the Bogaerts-centered deals I have seen flashed around seem to come more from a “get this guy outta town” perspective, which is alarming because Xander is a really good player.
There is no denying that his 2017 performance was down from 2016, but by BP’s WARP it was by less than half a win, so not really a drop that should have the team looking to cut bait. I will note that by FanGraphs WAR it was close to a two-win decrease in 2017 from 2016, which is certainly a more troubling account of how much worse 2017 was for Bogaerts. But even with the decrease considered, he was still a two-to-three-ish win player in 2017, and one who should be in the team’s plans for the next few seasons.
What Went Right in 2017
His first half. At the All-Star break, Bogaerts was hitting .303/.359/.447 with six home runs, and nine stolen bases (on ten tries). His strong performance over the first three-plus months made him a candidate for the American League All-Star team through the Final Vote, which was ultimately won by Mike Moustakas. Despite ending his streak for All Star game appearances at one, Bogaerts was showing that the above-average hitting he demonstrated in his standout 2016 and 2015 seasons was going to continue. Look at how free his swing looks on these two Father’s Day dingers against the Astros:
That is the sort of easy power for which Bogaerts has long been projected. Unfortunately a wrist injury, incurred right before the All-Star break, severely limited him from maintaining his strong hitting into the second half. More on that in the next section.
While his wrist hampered his hitting, there was nothing wrong with his legs. Bogaerts was the second-most productive baserunner on the team behind Mookie Betts, and seventh-best in all of baseball. He ended the season 15-for-16 in stolen base attempts, good for the third-best success rate among players with at least 15 tries. He adopted the team’s mandate for aggression on the basepaths, and while he made nine outs in doing so, he was still very effective in the approach.
What Went Wrong in 2017
Jacob Faria of the Rays is what went wrong. On July 6th, Faria lost a 1-2 pitch inside, hit Bogaerts on the right wrist, and entirely disrupted his season. After posting a tremendous first half at the plate, Bogaerts was pretty miserable in the second half: .235/.324/.347. A .347 slugging percentage? That is junk. Without two healthy arms, his power was just sapped. What’s more is the injury seemed to change his approach. He was much more patient in the second half, lowering his swing percentage by almost four points. That is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, his walk rate jumped close to four percentage points, which is great. But I wonder if swinging (and making contact) hurt him enough, or he didn’t trust his wrist enough, that he just didn’t want to do it as often. Alternatively, this is a reasonable change between halves of a season and I should be careful attributing too much to the injury. Regardless, watching him get into bad counts after watching hittable pitches go by early in his plate appearances and then flailing at breaking balls off the plate was frustrating for fans, and I am sure it was for Bogaerts too.
The other main down spot for Bogaerts last year, and throughout his career, was his defense. It is difficult to know exactly what to make of Bogaerts as a defender. By fielding runs above average (FRAA) and defensive runs saved (DRS), Boagerts rated as an awful defender. His -11 DRS was the worst mark among qualified shortstops, and his -9.4 FRAA was fifth-worst (among those with at least 350 plate appearances). But then ultimate zone rating (UZR) had him as more of a middle of the pack shortstop. Watching Bogaerts night-in and night-out I didn’t get the sense that he was a hacker out there, but I am sure the same argument was raised in support of Mr. Jeter when metrics suggested he was a mess of a defender. I guess what matters is that, while they don’t agree entirely, all three public measures of defense had Bogaerts as a below average performer last year, so it seems safe to say defense was not a bright spot for him.
What to expect in 2018
Barring a huge shakeup this offseason, Bogaerts will be the Opening Day shortstop and slotted into a spot in the top half of the lineup. Ideally he is able to get his wrist healthy this offseason so that he can get back to smacking the ball all over the park as he was in the first half of this past season. Restored health and a new manager, who many anticipate will have a discernible effect on players like Bogaerts, should be a boon for Bogaerts’ development.
All-in-all, I think the primary issue surrounding Bogaerts is one of comparing him to expectations rather than appreciating what he has done. So far in his career he has been an average to slightly-above-average player (2-3 WARP) each season, which is great, but becomes not so great if lined up against expectations. People see him as a franchise guy who should be posting 4-7 WARP seasons with ease. So when he doesn’t do that, and has periods where he looks downright lost at the plate, the calls to move on from him get loud.
Honestly, that is silly. While he might not consistently reach the upper bounds of the expectations laid out for him, he has a high-floor and, this needs repeating, is just 25 years old. Those are undoubtedly good things to have in a shortstop.
Photo by Bob DeChiara – USA TODAY Sports