Red Sox: Three players key to a dominant team in 2018
The best news for Bogaerts from these first nine games is not that he’s mashed, it’s how he’s mashed. When Xander was coming up through the system, scouts marveled at his raw power potential. Many in the industry thought that this young shortstop would be putting up around 25-30 homers annually with to compliment a pretty slash line.
Unfortunately for Bogaerts, the power has yet to play in games as many expected it would. He hit 21 home runs in 2016, but everyone hit bunches of homers in 2016. In his other three full seasons, he has yet to hit more than a dozen. The reason was apparent to anyone who’s been tuning in every day.
If you remember all the way back to his struggles in 2014, Xander had a well-known Achilles heel of not being able to hit anything on the outer half of the plate. He overcame these struggles by completely reinventing himself as a hitter; the next year Bogaerts pushed the ball to right almost as often as he pulled it. His GB% reached over 50% and, despite only having an ISO of .101, Xander hit .320 and made an All-Star appearance.
Until this season, Xander’s approach hasn’t changed a whole lot. He’s put the ball on the ground a shade less than 50% of the time and has been seemingly content with slapping the outside fastball between first and second. It became a rare sight to see Xander hit a ball hard to left field.
This season, however, Xander looks like he has reinvented himself again. It’s very early in the year, but Bogaerts has put the ball on the ground in less than 30% of his at-bats. His fly ball and line drive rates have soared and he’s pulling the ball harder than we’ve ever seen from. The grand slam he hit the other day went so far it was almost criminal.
It’s worth noting that Xander has always been a hot hand in the early months of the season; in fact, his career wRC+ is higher in April and May than in any other months. But watching Xander hit certainly feels different this year. It’s hard to say how likely he is to keep hitting like one of the best in baseball, but a conservative estimate would have him hitting at least as good as he did in 2016; a year in which he was worth 4.9 fWAR. He may very well crush that number.