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The Boston Red Sox are brimming with stars. Take the American League All-Star Game, for example, where they had the game’s starting pitcher (Chris Sale), lead-off hitter (Mookie Betts) and cleanup hitter (J.D. Martinez). This is the 2018 Boston Red Sox where grand slams are the norm and Betts hitting three home runs in a game fails to surprise like it should. Stars are everywhere, yet the Red Sox’ grand slam leader in Xander Bogaerts is not getting the attention he deserves.
Perhaps this is just a feature of being an extremely good player on a great team. Still, it feels Bogey is unfairly not getting much praise for the excellent season he is having. That is wrong.
Earlier in the year, I wrote a similar piece about Andrew Benintendi. Despite narrowly missing the All-Star Game by way of the final vote, he seems to be getting recognized nationally for his success as the year has progressed. Again, gauging if a player is underrated (or overrated) is extremely subjective. Maybe Beni is still criminally underrated or Bogaerts is not underrated at all.
It just appears this way and, as such, we should look at some Xander Bogaerts numbers. As of the All-Star break, he has churned an extremely strong .284 AVG/.353 OBP/.535 SLG in 348 plate appearances. Moreover, he has produced a 136 wRC+ and 3.2 fWAR in 2018 thus far. His previous season high in wRC+ was 115 and it was a .446 slugging percentage. Obviously, he has hit for more power than ever this season.
He already has belted 16 homers, which is close to his career-high of 21 in 2016. His isolated power is .252 this year and that is a far cry from the .152 career-high he also set in ’16. Bogey’s breaking out and it is entirely accredited to his power surge. He has an eerily similar strikeout and walks totals.
With such a pronounced improvement in power, though, it is worth questioning the sustainability of the increased output. What are the underlying numbers saying?
Well, they are overwhelmingly saying this is real and actually indicate he should be slightly better than what he has been this year. His xSLG (expected slugging) is .573 and xwOBA (expected wOBA) is .396 (he has a .375 wOBA this year). Basically, this means, based on how he has hit the ball (launch angle and exit velocity), he should have better numbers. Also, it is important to remember xwOBA factors in strikeout and walks, as well, so the overall offensive package is accounted for.
In 2017, Bogaerts had a Barrel Percentage of 1.3 percent, placing in the bottom-three percent in the league. This season he has a robust 12.0 percent, which ranks near the top. Zero to 100 real quick.
He is also hitting more fly balls and fewer groundballs this year (much higher launch angle!) while swinging at considerable more strikes. His Z-Swing% (percentage of pitches swung at in the strike zone) is up from 53.0 percent last year to 62.0 percent this year. That is one of the highest increases on the Red Sox, which have reaped benefits of an aggressive strike zone strategy.
For what it is worth, he is also offering at less balls outside of the strike zone (O-Swing%). When you swing at better pitches, you are going to make better contact. This has been perhaps the salient reason for Aruba-native’s offensive showcase.
Among qualified players, the Red Sox shortstop ranks 25th in the league in wRC+, sandwiched between Matt Kemp and Brandon Belt. In other words, he has been a more valuable hitter than Giancarlo Stanton this season.
In terms of fWAR (Fangraphs WAR), he is at 3.2 this year, which is 24th in baseball and right below Paul Goldschmidt. He is on pace to tie his previous high in fWAR (4.9). ZIPS projects he will be worth 1.7 fWAR the rest of the way, adding up to 4.9. Keep in mind he also missed time in April and, consequently, it is not as high as it could have been.
Oddly, the only area that Bogaerts has struggled this year is the baserunning department. In ’17, the X-Man was one of the supreme baserunners in the league, ranking 5th in baseball with an 8.3 BsR, the baserunning component that goes into fWAR. This year, however, his BsR sits at -0.3. He has stolen just two bags and has been caught once. In contrast, last year he stole 15 bases and got caught once.
When Bogaerts experiences inevitable regression to the mean with his baserunning value, we may very well see him rush up the Fangraphs WAR leaderboard.
Xander Bogaerts is an all-around stud, enjoying the best success of his young career. He is a different, superior hitter and, by all indications, has sustainably improved. Despite being the third or fourth best player in his lineup, Bogaerts would be a star on most teams with the year he is having. He may be doing so quietly but, make no mistake about it, he has been one of the best players in all of baseball this year.