A former top prospect in the Red Sox system, Xander Bogaerts had lofty expectations thrust upon him. While not the MVP we once dreamed of, he’s darned good.
There’s a mix of shortstops right now with between 10 and 16 HR and a wRC+ between 123 and 134. That list includes Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, Eduardo Escobar, Brandon Crawford, Chris Taylor and Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts is right in the middle for home runs at 13 and near the lower end of the wRC+ range at 126*. His numbers are actually quite similar to Correa’s who also has 13 HR and a 129 wRC+. Both have accumulated 2.4 fWAR so far on the season.
But the similarities end there. Correa is rocking a 24.4% strikeout rate with an 11.7% walk rate. Bogaerts is at 17.9% and 7.6% respectively. Bogaerts has the advantage in ISO at .228 to .212 but Correa has a career consistency that his Red Sox counterpart just can’t touch. You might be thinking this comparison feels a bit forced, but Correa and Bogaerts were on the 2013 top 100 prospects list at BA together. So comparisons have been happening for as long as they’ve been notable farm hands. Bogaerts was five spots higher at 8th overall that year, for whatever its worth.
Is this highly productive Bogaerts here to stay?
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Xander Bogaerts is on pace for 24 HR, 88 RBI, 69 R and a .276/.341/.504 slash over 129 games. Those home run and RBI totals look a lot like the 21 and 89 he finished 2016 with. Of course, if he doesn’t hit the DL again, that games played total will go up and so will the counting stats. But he’s hitting for power again, and that’s what matters. He was noted for his line drive swing in 2016, focusing on contact over power. That he managed 21 home runs that season in spite of that approach should indicate just how much raw power he has.
Enter Tim Hyers. The new Red Sox hitting coach was part of the change in philosophy that took the Dodgers from a mediocre power team in 2016 to one of the better hitting teams for HR and SLG in 2017. It was expected he would bring some of that fly ball approach to Boston, and he certainly has. Bogearts was one of the prime targets for benefiting from this shift in approach. His 2017 season was derailed by a hand injury, of course, but even in 2016 he wasn’t quite getting to the home run numbers people dreamed of when he was but a wee top 10 prospect in all of baseball in 2013.
Yes, what he’s doing is sustainable.
There are some noteworthy differences between his 2016 season and what he’s doing this year. But first, the similarities are encouraging. His launch angle is back up, for starters. It was 11.3 degrees on average in 2016. It’s 13 degrees right now, after dipping to 8.2 in 2017. His wOBA is back up as well, sitting at .359 (.320 is about league average). It was .348 in 2016 and just .322 last season. But it’s the differences that are really exciting.
His xwOBA (expected) in 2016 was just .315. This figure is based on launch angle and exit velocity. This season his xwOBA is .380. That’s due to the him more than doubling his barrel percentage from 5.3 to 10.9%. He has 24 barrels in 208 batted balls this season. He had 28 in 440 in 2016. So his being 47th overall in Brls/PA isn’t surprising. He’s just smoking the ball more often.
Using xStats.org we can actually dig into some of the messy details**. The thing that stands out most is that he has increased his HD% on balls in play. HD% is hard drives, or balls hit between 19 and 26 degrees. This is the most productive overall range of those tracked at xStats, and he has gone from 8% in 2016 to 15.5% this year. He’s also increased his FB% (26-39 degrees) from 7.2 to 11%. In short, he has definitely altered his approach to generate more fly ball contact. His GB% is up as well, but it’s at the expense of dribblers (between 0 and -10 degrees).
What does it all mean?
To put it as simply as possible, Xander Bogaerts is hitting the ball in the air more and his raw power is playing in games. He’s always had plenty of strength, but his approach was holding him back. Now he’s tailoring his swing in such a way as to maximize his natural gifts. What we have is something that looks a bit like Carlos Correa at the plate. And that should excite you. In a fully healthy season he would be on pace for 30 dingers. That’s the Bogaerts we were promised. That’s the Bogaerts that is worth extending. And that’s the Bogaerts the Red Sox need if they want to win another title before the current core breaks up.
How do you feel about what Bogaerts is doing this season? Do you expect it to continue? Let us know in the comments!
*Stats are as of the morning of July 4.
**xStats.org’s latest update was 6/27/18.