Xander Bogaerts Is MLB's $120M Big-Market Superstar Who Is Somehow Still Ignored

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJune 20, 2019

Boston Red Sox Xander Bogaerts bats in a baseball game against the New York Yankees, Sunday, June 2, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

By most measures, Xander Bogaerts is doing just fine.

He was only 16 years old when the Boston Red Sox signed him out of Aruba in 2009. He was one of baseball's top prospects soon after, and it was as a rookie in 2013 that he collected the first of his two World Series rings. His other accolades include an All-Star nod and two Silver Sluggers.

As of April 1, Bogaerts is also much richer than he used to be. He was ticketed for free agency after the 2019 season, yet he opted to sign a six-year, $120 million contract extension with the Red Sox.

Bogaerts, now 26, has wasted no time living up to his fresh fortune. Through his first 72 games of 2019, he's working on a career-best .928 OPS with 14 home runs. He's also racked up 3.0 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference. That's only 1.5 WAR short of his career high.

All that Bogaerts is missing, apparently, is a proper degree of respect.

Per the latest update, it's telling that Bogaerts ranked sixth among American League shortstops in All-Star voting. If he isn't within the top three when the primary round ends at 4 p.m. ET on Friday, he'll be shut out of consideration for the AL's starting shortstop gig.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who'll be skippering the AL All-Star squad, does not approve:

Neither does the man himself, who told Rob Bradford of WEEI.com the following:

"These past few years every time I've come up just short even though my numbers have been up there or better than most of the guys. It's just so weird. I just miss out when in my opinion I should have been there. I just feel like it's a routine, every year the same thing. It's kind of getting annoying. But I don't know what to do."

This is where Minnesota Twins fans and other admirers will come to the defense of Jorge Polanco.

He has a .930 OPS, and his 3.8 WAR puts him behind only the God of WAR, Mike Trout, among AL position players. His lead among his fellow AL shortstops in All-Star votes is therefore well-deserved.

Apart from Polanco, however, no other AL shortstop is on Bogaerts' level right now. 

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 13: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after hitting a go ahead solo home run during the seventh inning of a game against the Texas Rangers on June 13, 2019 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Bos
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

To clarify, we're talking about the Xander Bogaerts that is, not the Xander Bogaerts that used to be.

When Bogaerts first arrived in the majors in August 2013, he received billing as a shortstop who possessed rare offensive upside. His minor league numbers backed up the hype, as he'd hit .293 with 51 homers between 2011 and 2013.

As if to prove the point, Bogaerts went an estimated 450 feet at Yankee Stadium for his first career homer on Sept. 7, 2013.

But that was the only home run Bogaerts recorded as a rookie, and the hype for his 2014 season went unfulfilled as he hit only .240 with 12 homers. He increased his average to .320 in 2015, but with only seven long balls.

Bogaerts finally seemed to find his happy place in 2016, wherein he was elected to start at shortstop for the AL All-Star team en route to a .294 average and 21 homers. But then came another reality check in 2017 as he regressed to a .273 average and 10 homers.

Granted, the hand injury Bogaerts sustained midway through 2017 didn't do him any favors. That season nonetheless perpetuated a pattern of inconsistency that could be seen not only in Bogaerts' numbers but also in his general approach to hitting. Rather than aiming to be a good hitter with power, he often seemed caught between trying to be a good hitter or a good power hitter.

As of 2018, however, the Xander Bogaerts that is has taken over.

Whereas his former self had a tendency to widen the strike zone in search of hits, his current self isn't doing that anymore. In 2018, his swing rate outside the strike zone dipped below the MLB average for the first time since 2015, and it's gone even lower in 2019:

Not surprisingly, this hasn't done any harm to what was already a strong ability to make contact. It's equally unsurprising that Bogaerts' walk rate (13.7 percent) isn't far from catching up to his strikeout rate (17.9 percent).

In this way, Bogaerts has made himself a much tougher out for opposing pitchers. Yet they need to be careful about challenging him, as he's liable to do more than just slap the ball through a hole in the defense for a single.

Bogaerts has been hitting fewer ground balls since 2018 than he did between 2015 and 2017. To boot, he's also been putting more oomph into his fly balls and line drives:

As a result, the growth of his expected slugging percentage mirrors that of his actual slugging percentage:

Bogaerts is now essentially the player who was promised when he was coming up through the minor league ranks. He'd be a good hitter at any position. At shortstop, his .928 OPS comes out to a 140 OPS+ that places him behind only Polanco (147).

As for why none of this is translating into enthusiastic All-Star support, it could be because modern fans have more data than ever with which to judge players, and not all of it is kind to Bogaerts. To wit, his WAR is held back by defensive ratings that can charitably be described as "hit or miss."

It could also be because Bogaerts lacks a certain flair—not just in relation to high-profile Red Sox teammates such as Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, but also in relation to other AL shortstops.

Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor have been fan favorites since their thrilling AL Rookie of the Year race back in 2015. In addition to Polanco, this season has also seen Gleyber Torres and Tim Anderson establish themselves as stars. The latter has done so with a sort of unapologetic swagger that's all too perfect for baseball's current zeitgeist.

Whatever the case, Bogaerts will need a late surge to have any hope of making the next round of All-Star voting. If not the starting gig itself, he at least deserves that much. 

                      

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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