Red Sox 50th anniversary throw-down: Xander Bogaerts vs. Rico Petrocelli
By Rick McNair
The Boston Red Sox celebration of the 50th anniversary of the “Impossible Dream” season continues. This segment is a comparison of Rico Petrocelli and Xander Bogaerts – the past and the present.
There are similarities between Rico Petrocelli and Xander Bogaerts. Both made their major league debut with the Boston Red Sox at 20-years-old, although Petrocelli’s had been for just one game. Both players received some nasty criticism regarding their defensive abilities at shortstop – some of it certainly deserved. And both are right-handed hitters expected to supply power.
Petrocelli is memorable for the last catch of the 1967 regular season that would send the Red Sox to the World Series once the Tigers lost. Petrocelli eventually moved to third base and developed the power predicted by hitting a then record 40 home runs for an American League shortstop in 1969.
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In this throw-down it is not about a career, but about what is done in a similar time frame. For Petrocelli, it is 1964-67 and for Bogaerts, 2014 to the present. There is a large enough sample for a statistical comparison and interjection with some of my memories and a surprise that surfaced with metrics – fielding.
I never considered Petrocelli a gifted shortstop. I thought his range was limited and that Petro had questionable footwork. Petrocelli did have an above-average arm and the move to third base made the range issue less of a disadvantage, taking full advantage of his arm.
A visit to Fangraphs showed Petrocelli ranked a surprising second among American League shortstops in Total Zone (TZ) from 1965-67. Ahead of Bert Campaneris and his eventual replacement, the remarkable Luis Aparicio.
In the 1967 season, Petrocelli was ranked second behind only light-hitting Ray Oyler in TZ. Ed Brinkman during the same time frame was ranked first in TZ – trust me, folks, Brinkman was good, but not that good. I will be a skeptic on the fielding metrics.
Examining Bogaerts you have a far more refined system of measurement than in the primitive day before advanced metrics. Does my contention hold up regarding Bogaerts? From 2014-17 Bogaerts has a negative 28 in Defensive Runs Saved and a negative -1.8 UZR/150. Other metrics shout out “Average!” or “Below Average!” Despite that, I can say from my own observations via fading memory that the differences were just negligible. A statistical wash.
What about the offense?
Before the examination, a brief tutorial is necessary for those who may be unfamiliar with baseball circa 1967. Pitchers dominated and had for several years until after the 1968 season, or the “Year of the Pitcher.” For the 1969 season, baseball expanded and tinkered with the mound. In the American League, the league earned run average was 3.23 compared to 4.38 so far in 2017. League batting average was also 20 points lower than the present.
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If you are an advocate of fWAR then Bogaerts is 11.3 (so far) to Petrocelli’s 9.3 for a four-year time frame, but the other numbers are quite similar. There are two areas that did catch my attention – ISO, and steals. Petrocelli’s .159 ISO to Bogaerts’ .125, and then comes the speed. Petrocelli will never be confused with Usain Bolt. Rico managed just three steals in 10 attempts. Bogaerts has 36 steals in 46 attempts.
Examining other mundane metrics such as wOBA, wRC+, BABIP and even average show no remarkable differences. One coincidence is the second half fade both experienced. For Petrocelli in 1967, his first half average was .291 and that dipped to .230 in the second half. The previous season was almost the opposite.
Bogaerts fell apart in the second half of 2016, going from .329 to .253. The previous season? Like Petrocelli – the opposite. Bogaerts seems to be in a second half funk this season. Overall the offense for both is similar, but the awards are not. Petrocelli did not have the advantage of getting a Silver Slugger and would not have garnered one if they were issued. Bogaerts has two.
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This is a very close call for the period examined. I know that Petrocelli was quite noted as a positive influence in the clubhouse, but little is known in that regards for Bogaerts. What would allow me to give Petrocelli the slightest of edges is the 1967 season – the unexpected team success. That and the fact that pitchers dominated and not hitters in the time frame examined. If Bogaerts 2017 was a replication of 2015-16 it would be XB.
Statistics from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference