We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: based on the last two years, we know the Red Sox are good. The question is whether they can be great.
And nobody on the team is a better poster boy for this experiment than Xander Bogaerts.
With another multi-hit performance in Monday night’s 7-3 victory over the Miami Marlins, Bogaerts continued his sterling start to this 2018 season, hitting balls all over the ballpark from the middle of the Boston batting order. Through five games, the talented Red Sox shortstop is now 10-for-22 in this early season, though the nature of Bogaerts’ hits is far more important than the volume. Of his 10 hits, Bogaerts has five doubles and a home run. He didn’t garner his sixth extra-base last season until May 7.
Here’s what Bogaerts’ first month looked like a year ago, via Baseball-Reference.com:
And here's his production so far in 2018:
And so again: are those 2017 numbers bad? No. They’re good. They’re just not great. Bogaerts had 23 hits last April and batted .315. He walked eight times. But he had two extra-base hits – just one in his first 18 games – which seemed like an absurdly low number for a 24-year-old man (at the time) who is 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds.
And you know why it seemed that way?
Because it is.
He’s capable of more.
Now, here we are a year later, and Bogaerts isn’t just spraying balls all over the ballpark – he’s driving them. (Yes, there’s a difference.) The Red Sox have a new manager (Alex Cora) and a new hitting coach (Tim Hyers), and Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal shed some relative light on the impact both Cora and Hyers could have on Bogaerts in 2018.
Appearing on Matt McCarthy’s Hardcore Baseball podcast, McAdam suggested that Bogaerts’ relationship with former manager John Farrell and former third base coach/infield instructor Brian Butterfield was, to use a term loosely, strained. (We replayed the comment at the 26:45 mark of Monday’s The Baseball Reporters show, which you can listen to here.)
So great, Bogaerts is happier. And if a happier player means a more receptive one, so be it. If you’ve watched Bogaerts hit in 2018, you can already see that he is being far more aggressive and assertive, looking to drive the ball and, as Cora would so, “do damage” when presented with the opportunity.
For example: Bogaerts hit his first home run of the season in Tampa over the weekend. It came on a 3-1 pitch. That is precisely the kind of count when a hitter should be thinking about driving a fastball for extra bases, and it’s worth noting Bogaerts’ approach – which is to say his mentality as this pitch approaches.
Now look, I’m no hitting coach. But take a glance at this still frame: he’s upright, balanced, looking to open up and, well, do damage.
Now look at Bogaerts from last September. Admittedly, there’s a lot at play here – he had a hand injury last season, for example – and the pitch comes on a 1-1 count. Nonetheless, this type of swing is far more typical of Bogaerts’ approach over the last two years, when he has swung defensively and often lunged over the plate (this is called “diving”) with the idea of punching the ball to right field.
See the difference? This Bogaerts is out on his front foot, more interested in making contact than in making good contact. He got a single on this pitch, which was again in the middle of the plate.
Does this all mean Bogaerts will be an MVP candidate in 2018? Hardly. As we all know, the baseball season is endless. Bogaerts has had a history of fading in recent years, having batted .253 and .235 after the All-Star break in the past two seasons. Last year, Bogaerts finished eighth in the AL in OPS among 12 shortstops with at least 400 plate appearances - well behind contemporaries Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor, the two best offensive shortstops in the AL.
The goal this year might not necessarily be for Bogaerts to supplant those two players.
But he should at least be in the same neighborhood.
-- By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
You can hear Mazz weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program, and from 6-7 p.m. on The Baseball Reporters. And you can get a closer look every Tuesday and Friday with the Behind The Seams blog. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.
-- This post was updated to include Bogaerts' most up-to-date 2018 splits.