There is no doubt that Boston Red Sox star Xander Bogaerts is an excellent player, but is he on course to join the Hall of Fame someday?
When Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts steps on the field, very few think of him as a future Hall of Famer. That is a label attributed to those who have a transcendent talent and seem to dominate the league year after year. But Bogaerts has developed into an excellent young player, and if he is able to stay healthy, he may have an excellent shot at Cooperstown.
After winning the World Series in his age 20 season, ESPN ranked him as the #2 prospect in all of baseball entering 2014. But the Boston Red Sox’s young shortstop fell flat on his face, hitting .240 with a slugging percentage of just .362. He did not impress on the defensive side of the ball either, committing 10 errors in 256 attempts for a fielding percentage of .975.
But Xander bounced back, and over the next three seasons, he solidified himself as a well-above-average player. Recently, he has developed into one of the best players in the MLB, finishing in the top five in MVP voting in 2019 while receiving his third silver slugger and being named to his second All-Star team.
However, a Hall of Fame player is usually the face of the franchise. Bogaerts has never even been the best player on his own team — and even if the Red Sox have a season in 2020, he still might not be. His virtue is not in his ability to contribute in all facets of the game — he is a pretty mediocre fielder — nor is it dominance in a single statistical category. It is an ability that is often undervalued severely.
Many players with the greatest career achievements were not spectacular players. In fact, two members of the exclusive 3000 hit club have a batting average in the .270s. Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, who has 504 home runs, has fewer seasons with a slugging percentage over .550 than Jacoby Ellsbury. So what is it that guys like Bogaerts and Murray have that Ellsbury does not? An ability to stay on the field.
Since being called up for good in 2014, Bogaerts has averaged more than 149 games played per season. Combined with the fact that he began his major league career at a very young age, he has been able to rack up some very impressive career totals.
Through his age 26 season, he already has 1022 hits and a bWAR of 21.5. The go-to benchmark for the Hall of Fame used to be 3000 hits. This has held up relatively well, as every eligible member of the 3000-hit club that was not involved in some sort of cheating scandal has been inducted into the Hall.
But as baseball moves away from archaic stats like batting average and towards sabermetrics such as WAR, players who get 3000 hits may no longer be locks. On the other hand, 73% of eligible players with a career bWAR between 65 and 70 are in the Hall of Fame.
After posting his best season yet in 2019, Bogaerts seems to be entering his prime, and most players are still at their best through their early thirties. So if Bogaerts is able to average 4.75 WAR and 175 hits in his age 27-33 seasons, 2.5 bWAR and 150 hits when he is 34-36, and manages to find a little less than 3 bWAR and a little more than 303 hits at the end of his career, he will end up with both 65 bWAR and 3000 hits.
For reference, he has averaged 181 hits per 162 games so far and had a bWAR of 5.8 this season.
Now, there are plenty of examples of solid players who had one elite season and then regressed to simply being above average after that. This should not be the case for Bogaerts. Many fluke seasons are due to a high BABIP that can only be explained by good batted ball luck. But Xander’s BABIP was only slightly above his career total last year.
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And while last year’s home run total(33) set a career-high by a significant margin, the accompanying 52 doubles and a career-best exit velocity imply that he wasn’t just barely pushing balls over the fence. With his best years still possibly ahead of him, we can expect the Red Sox shortstop to stay elite well through his prime. CBS Sports seems to agree as well, ranking him as the 14th best player in all of baseball.
He likely won’t have to worry about a high amount of injuries hurting his durability late in his career. However, it is quite possible for a player to start landing on the IL more and more often as he ages — Miguel Cabrera is a perfect example of this.
Even so, Bogaerts should be able to accumulate the necessary numbers for the Hall of Fame even if he falls short of expectations in upcoming seasons. Baseball-Reference seems to share this same view — seven of the nine eligible players that are deemed most similar to Bogaerts through the age of 26 are in the Hall of Fame.
Although the “X-Man” still has a long way to go before the countdown to his 3000th hit starts, make sure you properly appreciate the play of the young Aruban shortstop. You could be looking at a future Hall of Famer.