Given the black hole that the American League shortstop position largely represents, Xander Bogaerts is nothing short of a revelation at the position for the Boston Red Sox. In turning into a legitimate offensive threat as the 2015 season has worn on, Bogaerts has not only established himself as one of the few quality offensive shortstops in the AL, but has taken his 2014 failures and spun them around into triumps throughout this 2015 campaign.
Thus far on the year, Bogaerts has gone for a 3.4 WAR. There’s certainly a defensive element there, given his 8.3 Def rating that FanGraphs has tagged him with to date, but unlike many other shortstops throughout the American League, Bogaerts brings an offensive element that has become something of a rarity at the position in the AL. And a lot of what he’s doing well are things that he failed to do well in 2014.
Bogaerts finished the 2014 season with a WAR of -0.3, despite playing in 144 games with the Red Sox. His wRC+ for the year was only 82, marking him as a well below average offensive player, while he reached base at a rate of only .297 for the year. He also struck out over 23% of the time. Against lefties, he went for an average of just .263, while he posted a figure of only .230 against right-handed pitchers. In short, very few things went right at the plate for Xander Bogaerts in 2014.
The results are really a night and day type of comparison. He’s cut his strikeout rate by almost a full 10 percent, going from over 23% last season to a 14.7% mark this season. He’s reaching base at a .346 clip, nearly a full 50 points higher than his OBP from a year ago. His wRC+ isn’t off the charts, but a 104 figure has him back in the green after a year in which he would have been classified as a far below average hitter, based off of that statistic alone.
His splits have definitely been a factor in his success this year. For one, he’s crushed left-handed pitching here in 2015. He’s going for an average of .377 off of the southpaws, in addition to the solid .295 average against righties. His wRC+ against left-handed pitching is currently at 155. He’s walking more (7.8%) and striking out less against left-handed pitching. He’s seeing the ball particularly well out of the left hand.
Additionally, his numbers with runners on are also excellent. In 221 plate appearances with men on base, Bogaerts is hitting .346 for the year, a figure which only grows larger when those runners are in scoring position, where Bogaerts is hitting .379. In high leverage appearances (44 PAs), he’s hitting an absurd .421. By comparison, he hit only .153 with RISP and posted a .226 average in high leverage situations last season.
It’s interesting that Xander Bogaerts has demonstrated such marked improvement over the course of a year, especially when his hard hit ball percentage, sometimes an indicator of success, dropped almost a full 10 percent, down to 24.9% from 34.2% a year ago. He’s demonstrating a still solid approach as well. Though he has dipped in pitches per plate appearance, from 4.12 (11th in the AL) a year ago to 3.83 this year (38th in the AL), his willingness to go the other way with pitches is a large part of his success.
Going for a more level approach, he’s remained constant with his linedrive percentage but has seen a major uptick in his groundballs (from 38.1% a year ago to over 52% this year). He’s going oppo far more than he did last season, jumping from 19.3% in 2014 to 33.6% this year. In keeping the ball level, Bogaerts has improved his on-base skills quite a bit, even if there is a slight drawback related to the loss in power.
After hitting an even dozen home runs last year, Bogaerts has hit only four this season. That change in approach, as far as the type of contact he’s making, should absolutely be attributed to the lack of power. We know Bogaerts possesses probably significantly more power than he’s demonstrated to this point. However, with the success he’s having in keeping the ball low, either via the linedrive or on the ground, you have to wonder if this low-ISO type of hitter is what Bogaerts could become on a more permanent basis.
Regardless of what transpires in relation to his power, one has to admire the improvements that Xander Bogaerts has made. He’s developed from a questionable option at short, a high upside player who lost some of his hype, to a very solid, consistent on-base threat. Time will tell if he develops into something else, but even in what has become a disastrous season for the Boston Red Sox, one has to imagine they’re ecstatic with the evolution of their young shortstop.
**Statistics via FanGraphs
Randy Holt is a co-editor for Statliners. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.