Our annual Report Card series evaluates and grades the 2017 season of each member of the Boston Red Sox. Up next – Xander Bogaerts.
At a point in his career where he should be ascending toward his peak, Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts took a discouraging step back in 2017.
The 25-year old has seen his batting average fall steadily over the last three seasons. He was a batting title contender in 2015 when he hit .320, flirted with the .300 mark last season, before dropping off to .273 this season – his lowest average since his rocky rookie season.
At least last year, when he hit a solid .294, the dip in batting average from the previous season was more than offset by an increase in power. Bogaerts hit a career-high 21 home runs and increased his slugging percentage to .446 last year. His home run production was cut in half this season as he finished with only 10 to go along with a .403 SLG.
The decline at the plate for Bogaerts is a bit baffling. His walk rate improved slightly to 8.8 percent. His strikeout rate was up to 18.3 percent, about a 1 percent increase over last season, but still not alarmingly high. His .327 BABIP is only a tick below his career rate and still above league-average.
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Digging further into his batted ball statistics fails to reveal any clear indicators either. He still hit the ball to all fields at similar rates to his career averages. His 31.4 percent Hard Contact rate was better than last season and he made less Soft Contact at 19.7 percent. He hit ground balls at a higher rate and fewer ground balls compared to last season, although those rates trended in the opposite direction in his stellar 2015 season.
After hitting .303 in the first half, Bogaerts saw his batting average plummet to .235 after the break. His struggles at the plate lead back to when he was hit by a pitch on the right hand back in early July. Bogaerts ended up hitting a measly .163 with a .452 OPS that month, easily his worst month of the season.
August showed some improvement but it wasn’t until mid-September that Bogaerts finally started to look like himself again at the plate. He finished the regular season on a nine-game hitting streak and hit .311 over his last 15 regular season games.
Bogaerts went back into a funk during the postseason, although most of the Red Sox lineup did during their ALDS loss to the Houston Astros. His strong September is a better indicator of Bogaerts getting back on track than that four-game playoff sample.
Unlike some of the other young Red Sox hitters who find ways to add value throughout their offensive struggles, Bogaerts isn’t much help in other areas. His defense remains well below-average. While he occasionally will make a flashy play that fools the eye test into thinking he’s turned a corner, the advanced metrics adamantly disagree. His -11 defensive runs saved places him next to last among all major league shortstops, his -1.6 UZR ranked 14th and his .969 fielding percentage was 15th at his position.
Bogaerts did set a new career-high in stolen bases, converting 15 of 16 attempts. When including the outs he made attempting to take an extra base on a ball hit in play, Bogaerts made 9 outs on the bases this season which tied for 13th in the majors. The Red Sox led the majors in that category, as the coaching staff pushed the aggressive baserunning mentality in an effort to offset their lack of power in the lineup.
The overall numbers turned out to be massively disappointing but the clear effect of the hand injury along with his strong finish suggest a bounce-back campaign is in store for Bogaerts.