Comeback Kid

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Xander Bogaerts has had a nice career as a member of the Boston Red Sox.  He arrived in 2013 and helped the team to a World Series victory over the Cardinals. Since then he has picked up two Silver Slugger Awards and has been named to an All Star team once in his four full seasons.  If the 2015 and 2016 seasons were any indication, Bogaerts appeared ready to spend the next decade among the best shortstops in the game.  2017 however, saw Bogaerts take a step back.  Both traditional and newer statistics showed a significant decline.  Although 2017 was a disappointment, there are many reasons to optimistic about his 2018 season.

Bogaerts played a large portion of the 2017 season injured.  Although any injury to a player has the potential to derail a season, Bogaerts’ injury was primarily to his hand.  Hand injuries to hitters can be disastrous and for Bogaerts, the hand injury not only cut his power by more than half but it also hurt his ability to hit for average.  In reading a variety of articles, Bogaerts indicated that he should have gone on the disabled list and given himself a chance to heal rather than playing injured as he ultimately chose to do.  The constant grind of the season clearly took a toll on his ability to produce at the plate.

A quick examination of Bogaerts’ production by month clearly shows a player trying to stay in the lineup while nursing a significant injury (even taking into account his bad luck on balls in play during July).

Month Batting Average Batting Average for Balls In Play On Base Plus Slugging (OPS)
March/April 315 365 731
May 351 418 949
June 277 329 763
July 163 203 452
August 227 278 683
September/Oct 284 325 803

 

Furthermore, a comparison of first and second half statistics for the 2017 season shows a player trying a different approach at the plate to compensate for not being able to hit the ball hard due to his hand injury:

At Bats Batting Average Batting Average for Balls in Play On Base Plus Slugging (OPS) Walks Strikeouts
1st Half 320 303 363 765 25 65
2nd Half 251 235 281 726 31 51

 

Another reason for optimism in 2018 besides a return to health is the hiring of Tim Hyers as the Red Sox’s new hitting coach.  Hyers comes over from the Dodgers where he was an assistant hitting coach.  He is credited for implementing hitting theory and techniques that helped the Dodgers maximize their offensive potential.  In 2017, the Dodgers set a franchise record for homers, doubles, and extra base hits.  Even though the Dodgers were blessed with a good deal of talent and the baseball liked to travel in 2017, the effect Hyers had on the approach the Dodgers took to the plate can’t be overlooked.  It is likely that the Red Sox, especially Bogaerts, will benefit from his tutelage.  Perhaps Bogaerts will be more cognizant of his swing plane and launch angle and join the home run party that the league has been throwing for the past two years.

The third reason Bogaerts in a strong candidate to bounce back this season is youth being on his side.  Although it seems like Bogaerts has been around awhile, 2018 will be just his age 25 season.  At age 25, a number of solid prospects are just breaking into the big leagues.  Bogaerts has both experience and youth and the potential to grow as a hitter.  Many young players need time to adjust to the major leagues but Bogaerts is already a seasoned veteran.  The pitching within the A.L. East has not dramatically changed or improved from 2017 to 2018 and his knowledge of the divisional rival pitching staffs will help him better execute his hitting plan at the plate when he matches up with familiar foes.

The final reason I see Bogaerts putting together a great 2018 is bit more nebulous than the prior reasons.  I think 2018 is going to be much better for Bogaerts because the Red Sox offense as a group is ready to improve from 2017.  Last year was the first season without David Ortiz and it appears as though his teammates were scrambling to reproduce what he had brought to the team both on and off the field.  Players tried on different roles, some of them comfortable and some less comfortable – some new roles stuck and some were discarded.  After a year of searching, the team appears to be more stable as it enters this year.  J.D. Martinez is the new power bat, Andrew Benintendi is ready to improve on an impressive rookie season, and Rafael Devers is ready to take over third base and stabilize what was one of, if not the most, problematic area for the 2017 Red Sox.  These factors all combine to create an environment and opportunity for Bogaerts to just be Bogaerts at the plate and not have to push or try to do too much.  Being able to play healthy and within himself will allow Xander to get back on track and put together what I believe will be the comeback of the year.

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There are a number of projection systems and models out there.  Two of the more commonly referenced ones are Marcels and Steamer.  So what do these two systems envision for Bogaerts in 2018?

The Marcels Projection System predicts:

Homers RBI Steals Batting Avg OPS Walks Strikeouts
13 70 11 292 786 47 104

 

Steamer Projection System predicts:

Homers RBI Steals Batting Avg OPS Walks Strikeouts
15 72 10 289 797 49 98

 

Both models see a solid bounce back.  However, I think he will perform even better.  My projection for Bogaerts in 2018:

Homers RBI Steals Batting Avg OPS Walks Strikeouts
19 84 15 300 805 60 98

 

The statistics Xander Bogaerts’ accumulates are bound to vary depending on where in the line-up he ultimately bats.  During the 2017 season, Bogaerts hit all over the line up.  During spring training he appears to be getting consistent work in the six spot.  Since no official announcement has been made by the Red Sox, it is unclear whether Bogaerts will continue to bat sixth to begin the season as well as whether he will remain in that spot throughout the 2018 season.  Regardless of where he ends up in the batting order, 2018 is going to be a return to form for Bogaerts and will be a reminder to baseball fans just how star studded the shortstop position is in today’s game.

 

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