Red Sox SS: Xander Bogaerts
It almost felt like we watched two versions of Xander Bogaerts last year. Through June 30, he was as tough of an out as there was in all of baseball. He slashed .330/.391/.551 with 37 XBH, and his name was squarely in the MVP discussion. There seemed to be no way to get him out. Pitch him inside, and he would flick his lightning-quick wrists and send one over the Monster. Pitch him outside, and he would go with the pitch into the right-center gap.
Then, just as it seemed Bogaerts was on his way to a MVP-caliber season, it all fell apart. Over the last three months, he slashed just .254/.346/.426. To be fair to Bogaerts, he did miss ten games on the COVID-IL, and the effects on his performance are unknown, but it is clear he just wasn’t the same hitter.
It looked like he turned the page with a strong start to the postseason, but he seemed completely overmatched against Houston, flailing at breaking ball after breaking ball en route to a .192 series average and ten strikeouts in just 28 plate appearances.
The second-half swoon was more of the same for Bogaerts, who is a career .321/.385/.545 hitter in the first half and a .255/.347/.414 hitter after the break.
Overall, however, Bogaerts had one of the best offensive seasons of his career. He set a career-high in sweet-spot percentage and XBA, and his hard-hit percentage was up six points from 2020. He did all that without sacrificing his above-average contact and plate discipline skills. Bogaerts has established himself as a consistent and dangerous force at the plate, and at just 29, there should be plenty left in the tank.
As dependable as Bogaerts’ offense is, his defense is that unreliable. Baseball Savant had him in the first percentile in Outs Above Average, meaning he wasn’t just the worst defensive shortstop in baseball but was one of the worst defensive players at any position. Bogaerts generally makes the routine play, making only nine errors all year, but his extreme lack of range and his poor arm make him one of the main reasons the Red Sox were one of the worst teams at converting ground balls into outs in Statcast history.
Bogaerts’ defense may be a key reason why the Red Sox signed Story this offseason to be his potential successor. Yet even though he may have some warts in his games, as his work in the field and history of second-half declines will attest to, there is no denying the impact Bogaerts had had on this generation of Boston baseball. His leadership, competitiveness, and overall hitting ability more than make up for his lackluster defense, and he should continue to produce at an All-Star level this season.
Stat Prediction: .286/.364/.488, 26 HR, 103 RBI, 4.8 WAR