Apart from seeing the striking skill displayed by Edward Mujica, Allan Craig, and Sandy Leon, to name a few, the Red Sox campaign in 2015 was certainly one to forget. Looking from the outside the season might seem to be an outright failure, and in many aspects it was. However, in terms of player development, specifically that of Xander Bogaerts, it was a wild success.
Say it with me, “Xander Bogaerts is the best shortstop in the MLB.” Feels good, right?
Well it’s true. Not only is he the best shortstop in the game at the seemingly impossible age of 23, he’s still getting better. There’s no reason to doubt that with a relaxed offseason, and continued coaching, we’ll continue to see even more improvement. Still not convinced? Here are some stats to put the naysayers to bed. In 2015, Bogaerts led the pack of shortstops in: BA (.320), hits (196), 2B (35), OBP (.355), number of pitches seen (2530), and tied for third in pitches per plate appearance (3.87) with the Giants’ Brandon Crawford. Those stats are all impressive, but the one to keep an eye on is the amount of pitches seen, both total and per PA. Seemingly insignificant, this may be one of his biggest accomplishments this season. Besides helping to get the starting pitcher’s count up, this stat shows that he isn’t settling for the first good pitch he sees, rather waiting patiently in the box for one he can handle.
This is reassuring to see, as many of his critics (myself included) would have taken shots at his plate discipline in 2014, citing it as one of his biggest problems in his first full year in the majors. For sabermetric enthusiasts it was awesome to see Bogaerts’ WAR jump a comical 4.3 points from last year to 4.6 this year, according to Baseball Reference. That ranks 43rd overall, and second of all the shortstops. To further bring home this point of offensive improvement, here are some increases from 2014: BA+.80, hits+67, RBI+35. Can you imagine the difference in his offensive confidence heading into the offseason compared to last season?
As for Bogaerts’ defense, the Red Sox got the same steady improvement across the board. Consistent play at shortstop rather than splitting time at third was definitely a factor, but there’s no denying he had much better footwork and defensive awareness this year. Bogarts had 61 more putouts and 9 less errors than in 2014, leading to a .42 increase in his fielding percentage. He’s no Ozzie Smith (yet) but a consistent fielder at a premium position is blessing that most overlook. It seems that he is, but we just need to hope that X is at the top of Dombrowski’s ever dwindling list of players that he would be unwilling to deal out. I’m not kidding when I say that Bogaerts will be the best short stop in the MLB for years to come, we’re just lucky that we’ll be the ones getting to cheer for him.