Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts is having an unusual season

May 5, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) looks on during pre game batting practice before a game against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
May 5, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) looks on during pre game batting practice before a game against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts sports an impressive batting average but the rest of his game has been called into question this season.

Can a player be considered a disappointment while simultaneously competing for a batting title? It’s a question that Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts is forcing us to ponder.

It would be inaccurate to suggest that Bogaerts hasn’t performed well at the plate. He’s hitting .320 through 150 at-bats, equaling his average from 2015 when he finished as the runner-up in the batting title race. He enters the day with the seventh highest average in the American League, although considering Mike Trout is the only one ahead of him with a career average above .290 it’s fair to say that Bogaerts is more likely than most of his competition to remain in the race.

The 24-year old has continued to improve his walk rate, leading to a career-high .389 OBP. He also currently holds career-highs with an .823 OPS and 120 OPS+ this season.

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Based on his solid numbers in these categories it would appear Bogaerts is on his way to the best season of his career, right? That may depend on how you measure a successful season, yet we can’t ignore that the all encompassing Wins Above Replacement metric paints a gloomy outlook.

We’re just past the quarter mark of the season and Bogaerts has produced a mere 0.7 WAR, tied for 69th in the league. That’s the same level of value as Oakland’s Chad Pinder and less than Detroit’s Jim Adduci, neither of whom have tallied 50 at-bats yet this season. Not exactly the company we expected the All-Star shortstop to be in by this point in the season.

Bogaerts is on pace for about 2.8 WAR, nearly a full win lower than last year and his worst season since his dismal rookie year. An average player is typically worth around 2.0 WAR while an All-Star is more in the 4.0-5.0 WAR range or above. So far this season, Bogaerts has been closer to average than All-Star.

What stands out even more than the lofty batting average is the glaring lack of power Bogaerts has displayed this season. We’re heading toward the end of May and he’s still seeking that elusive first home run of the season. That’s shocking for a player who cracked 21 homers last year.

The power outage is partially be design, as Bogaerts is making an effort to boost his batting average by hitting to all fields at the expense of his home run power. He’s also on pace to finish with 30+ doubles for the third consecutive season and has already set a career-high with four triples, so it’s not as if he has no power left in his bat. Still, his home run stroke completely drying up is an unexpected factor in his depleted value.

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Hitting for both average and power is a rare gift, so those traits don’t always go hand-in-hand. The league leaders list for batting average is often littered with players who don’t hit for much power. What’s less common is a batting champion who produces as little overall value as Bogaerts has.

Over the past 10 seasons, every AL hitter who won a batting title produced at least 5.2 WAR – well above the mark Bogaerts is on pace for. AL batting champs have averaged north of 7.0 WAR over the last decade. That list includes a couple of hitters who failed to reach double-digit home runs, including Jose Altuve (2004) and Joe Mauer (2008). Clearly we can’t point to the lack of home runs as the only reason holding Bogaerts back.

Bogaerts may not end up winning a batting title, but the recent history of hitters who have posted an average as high as his current rate still makes his season seem unusual. Over the past 10 seasons, only Michael Young (2.5 WAR in 2009) has finished with a lower WAR  total than what Bogaerts is on pace for among AL hitters who posted at least a .320 batting average. Victor Martinez (2.9 WAR in 2011) is the only other hitter from that sample to finish with a sub-3.0 WAR and he spent most of the season as a DH.

Which brings us to another reason for the lower WAR total Bogaerts has produced. While V-Mart’s time as a DH prevented him from adding to his value on the field, Bogaerts has actually hurt his value with his glove. He’s always been a bit below average defensively, but this year Bogaerts has been arguably the worst shortstop in the league with -8 defensive runs saved. Only three major league players have been worse at any position.

Bogaerts will almost certainly hit a home run at some point this season and he probably won’t continue to be this bad defensively. His lack of production in both areas have been the primary reasons for his drastic dip in value and he’ll need to improve significantly in at least one of them in order to boost his WAR back to the level the Red Sox expect from him.

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Otherwise we may see Bogaerts become the rare batting champion who fails to deliver All-Star caliber value.