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With the 2017 season now officially in the rearview mirror, and with the Houston Astros first-time champions, we turn our attention to the 2018 fantasy baseball season. Each week, I will be evaluating one player’s stock for this year. This week, continuing the trend of evaluating players whose early draft position seems a bit higher than it should with Xander Bogaerts.
Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
2017 statistics: 635 PA, .273/.343/.403, 10 HR, 62, RBI, 94 R, 15 SB
Xander Bogaerts entered 2017 as an extremely exciting player, a mid-20s shortstop coming off of back-to-back above-average hitting seasons with seemingly some further untapped power upside. Instead, Bogaerts regressed last year, recording his lowest marks in all three triple slash categories since his rookie year. To his credit, he remained a perfectly useful player; he still contributed something near league average offensive results while exceeding 590 plate appearances for the fourth consecutive year. Nevertheless, given where he seemed to be trending, last year was an unequivocal disappointment for fantasy owners. Unfortunately, the underlying data suggests that Bogaerts may not have as much upside, in the short-term or long-term, as is commonly believed, particularly with regards to his power potential.
Bogaerts has never had particularly strong ball-in-play authority, instead seemingly prioritizing making contact and relying on a high batting average to prop up the rest of his offensive numbers. Indeed, from 2015-2016, he was one of only 25 players (minimum 500 plate appearances) to provide above-average offense despite making soft contact on at least 20% of his balls in play. Like many of the other players on that list, he did so by making a high amount of contact and using plus speed and low-trajectory contact to sustain a higher than average BABIP. Particularly in a hitter-friendly home park, such as Fenway, this proved a fruitful approach, resulting in stronger results than his underlying metrics would suggest. In 2017, however, Bogaerts’ results regressed, as he lost .021 points off of his batting average and .043 points from his slugging percentage the year prior, instead of adding power to his game as he hit his mid-20’s, as many projected that he would. That said, fantasy owners seem to be buying into Bogaerts’ perceived upside yet again, selecting him as the seventh shortstop and 81st player overall in early drafts, according to Fantrax ADP. Given that his never-fantastic batted-ball data took an extreme downturn last year, though, such optimism may not be warranted.
Batted Ball Data
As mentioned, Bogaerts possesses a profile that can confuse the Statcast data. Because of his home park and above-average speed, he has long overperformed his expected results, with a weighted on base average .043 points higher from 2015-2016 than his raw data would suggest that he “deserved.” Once again, his actual results in 2017 were significantly better than the underlying metrics would project, although both sets of numbers dropped off precipitously last year. His .283 xwOBA ranked 344th out of 462 regulars or semi-regulars, thanks to a dangerous combination of ground balls and pop-ups. For a player who many expected to build off his 21 home runs from 2016, he instead recorded only 10, which ranked tied for 25th among shortstops. Further, some of the progress that he made in pulling the baseball (which is an especially beneficial move for a right-handed hitter in one of the league’s most favorable left fields) was lost, as his pull rate dropped by four percentage points. Nor did this softer contact come with an accompanying uptick in contact, as his strikeout and contact rates remained largely intact. All told, Bogaerts’ fantasy viability relies upon owners believing that he will continue to drastically overperform his batted ball data.
Bogaerts’ batted ball decline is worrisome, but it is not to say that he offers no fantasy value. He still makes a high rate of contact, he is a model of durability, and he is coming off of his most successful season as a basestealer. Additionally, he is undoubtedly the beneficiary of some external factors, hitting near the top of a strong Red Sox lineup that may be on the verge of adding J.D. Martinez and should get some positive regression from Mookie Betts. Still, his being selected well in front of such players as Didi Gregorius, Trevor Story and Paul DeJong may be overly optimistic. Consider: Owners have seemingly abandoned entirely Dansby Swanson after his awful 2017 season (currently selecting him between Jose Reyes and Freddy Galvis on average at the position), yet Swanson’s batted ball data in 2017 was actually slightly better than was Bogaerts’. While Bogaerts has a much stronger track record and is rightfully being selected in front of Swanson, the gap between the two players is probably not as stark as the 277-spot draft position differential would indicate. Given where Bogaerts is currently trending in many drafts, owners left without one of the league’s clear top four options at the position may be best suited passing on Bogaerts and selecting from the deep crop of mid-tier shortstops.
2018 Player Profiles