Xander Bogaerts: Hitting and not defense is his value to the Red Sox

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The Boston Red Sox can survive average defensive play at short if Bogaerts hits. That is the question for 2017 for Bogaerts – will he hit?

What do you do with a good bat and a bad glove at a key position? Travel back a few years ago and the Red Sox had such a situation with Nomar Garciaparra who certainly could hit, but the fielding? The metrics and eyeball showed that Nomar could, well – hit, and leave it at that.

When you take the hitting away from a weak link defensive shortstop you have both a hole in your batting order and in your defensive alignment at quite possibly the key defensive position on the field. Traditionally a team will sacrifice hitting at short if the defense is consistently solid.

A travel through baseball history shows that great and not so great teams would sacrifice hitting for defense. Just think of Pee Wee Reese (.269) of the Dodgers and Phil Rizzuto (.273) of the Yankees. Both are in the Baseball Hall of Fame and both consistently were MVP candidates with Rizzuto capturing one. In another era, Deven Marrero could have been a regular on several teams. But what about the present?

The Red Sox have Xander Bogaerts at short and XB has two Silver Slugger Awards. Bogaerts also has a career -1.2 UZR/150 and a career -29 on the Defensive Runs Saved scale. Is that awful? Certainly not disastrous, but when you have a .273 average for 2017 and just ten home runs it is. The Red Sox are giving up defense and offense at short and that is an unacceptable situation for a team that needs run production.

The left side of the Red Sox infield will be questionable with Rafael Devers at third and Bogaerts at short. Cumulatively the Red Sox were ranked as the best defensive team in the American League, but, quite frankly – a defensive sieve exists on the left side. Can Devers hit? If 2017 is an indicator then he can accomplish potential prodigious numbers swinging the stick. But Bogaerts?

Bogaerts has a level of financial incentive that is now in the final run – free agency in two seasons. Can Bogaerts get back to the promise of power in 2016 when he hit 21 out? Maybe the wrist injury is the key? Maybe Bogaerts will avoid his second-half slumber that is becoming a career trademark? Bogaerts is a right-hand hitter just built for Fenway Park with a smooth swing and noted lift to the ball and an all fields ability with his hitting.

Bogaerts originally was placed at third base for the Red Sox in 2013 out of necessity. Third base is a position often mentioned as an eventual landing place for Bogaerts, but at third his defense was Butch Hobson like. Hobson once had 43 errors in a season and I remember a game in which I almost got crowned by one of his errant tosses to first. I was in the ninth row! And it was infield warmup between innings!

So, what to do?

Bogaerts failed in 2017 and is that a harbinger of his future? Will Bogaerts hitting continue to erode? Will his fielding remain stagnant? The fielding is fairly set. The base of statistical information is lengthy enough to say a Gold Glove will not be on Bogaert’s mantle unless he hits an auction house and grabs one from a former player needing some cash. But the hitting.

Bogaerts is a smart hitter. That is well noted by simple observation or examining the mind-bending maps of hitting location. In 2017 Bogaerts hit 33.2% of his ball to center and 25.9% to right. Bogaerts knows the fundamentals of hitting and is enraptured with driving every pitch into the stratosphere. I fully expect Bogaerts to return to be a .300+ hitter and for his home runs totals to return to his 2016 benchmarks.

I may be overly optimistic, but Bogaerts is still quite young (25) and has a mature hitting mentality coupled with a natural ability. If Bogaerts doesn’t hit, then the Red Sox may need a very long look at upgrading their defense at short or trading Bogaerts while he may get a reasonable return.

Now for the “but” word being slipped in. But the real key is the pitching staff. A Bogaerts of 2017 is doing a defensive disservice to the staff and to providing run support.

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About Rick McNair

Born in Boston and have lived in the area all my life but not as a Red Sox fan. My first game was actually at Braves Field where I saw a very young Eddie Matthews hit a home run. The Braves left and I quickly switched loyalties. I enjoy discussing the Red Sox past and the connection of that past to the present. I will often bring in remembrances of that into posts. As a retired teacher I have the time to occasional travel to foreign baseball soil and love meeting up with other fans of RSN on the road. I am also a fan of the NY Football Giants (via NJ) - a dwindling breed in Massachusetts.
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