Settling the debate: Is Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts clutch?

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 13: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after striking out in the third inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on August 13, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 13: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after striking out in the third inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on August 13, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) /

The term “clutch”, prior to the age of analytics in baseball, relied primarily on feel. The player that was able to come up big in the single biggest moment that everyone can’t seem to forget was labeled as clutch. The go-ahead home run into the bullpen in the 8th inning by Boston Red Sox legend David Ortiz in the 2013 ALCS is the type of moment that comes to mind.

Despite the struggles the Red Sox have had in 2022, Xander Bogaerts has shown that he is an elite shortstop and a clutch performer

This approach is certainly suitable for players like Ortiz, who is one of the most clutch baseball players of the modern era, we now have more ways of measuring whether or not a player is clutch. A hitter’s situational splits, down to the inning and situation, are readily available. This data helps tease out whether or not someone performs at a high level or has a tendency to fail when the game is on the line, each and every day, over the course of a 162-game season.

And to those who were hoping to discover that Xander Bogaerts is not clutch, my apologies for disappointing you. By essentially all conceivable metrics, he’s clutch. Playing on a team that did not meet expectations is tough, and playing hurt is also a challenge. Xander had to face both of these circumstances in 2022.

Despite the unfavorable circumstances he faced this season with the Red Sox, Bogaerts is putting up great numbers both offensively and defensively. He is on-pace for a .315+ AVG, .380+ OBP, and .850+ OPS. Entering game action on 9/22, this is how Xander Bogaerts ranks among MLB shortstops offensively:

  • AVG: 1st
  • OBP: 1st
  • SLG: 4th
  • OPS: 1st

He has also cleaned up his defense in 2022. He was previously seen as a below-average defender at SS according to advanced metrics, but this season he ranks 8th among all MLB shortstops in overall defensive value (DEF).

It’s true that being “clutch” goes beyond performing at a consistently high level every day, though; it means being the best in the biggest spots. And in case you were wondering, Xander Bogaerts does precisely that and the stats back it up.

When analyzing his inning-by-inning splits, Bogaerts kicks it into another gear after the 5th inning. In innings 1-5, his highest OPS is .840 (in the 4th inning). From the 6th on, his OPS tops his early-game best in every inning (1.020, .893, .873, 1.278). In late/close game situations, he has a .931 OPS.

He has hit for average consistently this season, and his situational stats follow that same trend. He has a .300+ batting average in both bases empty and runners-in-scoring-position situations. However, he has an OPS that is 85 points higher with RISP (.903) compared to at-bats with no runners on (.818).

It’s natural for fans to try to find a scapegoat for a frustrating season. There have been games in 2022 when Bogaerts was at the plate in a crucial spot and he didn’t produce, but that’s the nature of the game. For a professional hitter, it’s a game of failure. This does NOT mean he isn’t clutch.

The only potential stain on his otherwise clutch résumé is his performance with RISP & 2 outs this season. In this situation, he is only 10 for 56 (.179). However, 6 of those 10 hits were for extra bases (3 doubles, 3 home runs). This is likely one of the major reasons why his Clutch value is negative (-0.46) according to FanGraphs, which compares his performance in context neutral spots to clutch ones.

In an otherwise lost season for the Boston Red Sox, Xander Bogaerts has produced at an elite level in clutch situations and proven himself to be the epitome of value. He ranks 11th in MLB among all players (regardless of position) in fWAR (6.1), which is also good for 2nd among all shortstops (trailing only Francisco Lindor).

Some may say he has only picked it up lately, as he closes in on the end of the season and the Red Sox are now out of serious postseason contention. However, he batted .316 prior to the All-Star break and .317 since. He has played through injuries that impacted his swing all season and caused a dip in power, but he has still managed to put up strong numbers both offensively and defensively.

The Boston Red Sox have been plagued by injury in recent years, particularly in 2022, but Xander has been a mainstay in the lineup. From 2014-2021 (excluding the COVID-shortened 2020 season), he has averaged 149 games played per campaign. He hasn’t logged fewer than 136 games over that stretch, and he has already played in 139 this season (with14 still remaining).

Xander Bogaerts doesn’t typically talk a lot or show much emotion when he plays; he lets his performance on the field do the talking. And it has spoken loudly this season. He’s among the top shortstops in the game, he is dependable for the Red Sox day-in and day-out, and he is clutch.