- Don't be fooled by last year's misleading stat line. Xander Bogaerts remains one of the best fantasy shortstops in the league.
Certain player types emerge every February and March as fantasy baseball owners prepare for their drafts and auctions. The specific players who fill those roles change, but the roles themselves carry over from year to year. Identifying the players who fit each archetype before you sit down to build your team can help you find hidden value and avoid impending busts. We’ll take a look at the 10 most identifiable, enduring archetypes in our Player Profile series. In this edition, we consider The One-Year Blunder: Xander Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox.
Xander Bogaerts regressed statistically in almost every meaningful way last season. He hit .273/.343/.403, his worst slash line across the board since his first full major league season in 2014. He hit 10 homers, compared with 21 in 2016. His strikeout rate jumped 1.2 percentage points from the previous season. After two straight seasons with a wOBA of at least .338 and offensive bWAR of 4.6, he had a .321 wOBA and 3.4 offensive bWAR last season. It was, in all ways other than the Red Sox team-wide success, an ugly season for Bogaerts.
Last year’s regression has conspired to push Bogaerts further down draft boards than we’ve seen him in years. His average draft position is 83.17, which lands him late in the seventh round of a 12-team league, and late in the sixth of a 14-teamer. Those prices aren’t indicative of a player the fantasy community has forgotten, but they don’t quite reflect Bogaerts’s actual skill or value. You’ve heard of a one-year wonder. Bogaerts is 2018’s One-Year Blunder, and last year’s setback is going to make him one of the biggest bargains of the season.
Let’s first remember the player Bogaerts was heading into last season. At 24 years old, he was coming off two straight Silver Slugger campaigns. In 2015, his second full year in the majors, he hit .320/.355/.421 with seven homers, 35 doubles, 10 steals, 84 runs and 81 RBI. He was a solid four-category contributor, and the 35 doubles suggested there could be more power in his future. The growth Bogaerts already showed, and the near-guarantee for more, drove his ADP for the 2016 season up to 58.4.
That power showed up the following season when Bogaerts hit a career-high 21 bombs, rewarding those who believed in him at his escalating draft-day price. His batting average slipped to a still-impressive .294, and that was largely resultant of BABIP normalization. He set new career bests with a .356 OBP, .446 slugging percentage, .348 wOBA, 111 OPS+, 115 runs and 89 RBI. Bogaerts may not have showed the full offensive potential of fellow sub-25 shortstops Carlos Correa, Corey Seager or Francisco Lindor, but he clearly wasn’t far behind. Even if he never reached their level, it seemed he’d be a perennial All-Star candidate heading into his mid-20s. Bogaerts’s ADP shot up to 30.66 for the 2017 season.
Of course, Bogaerts would ultimately hurt those who believed in him last year as much as he lifted those who bought into his breakout the previous season, sending him tumbling down draft boards this year. That tumble is unwarranted. Bogaerts had built up enough good will, given his pedigree and previous two-year success, for the fantasy community to give him a pass on last year, even if he didn’t have a good excuse to help explain it away. Bogaerts, however, does have a good excuse.
The Red Sox kicked off a four-game set with the Rays in Tampa on July 6. Going into that game, Bogaerts was hitting .308/.361/.455 with six homers and 20 doubles. In his first plate appearance of the July 6 game, he took a fastball from Jake Faria off his right hand. He missed just one game after the hit by pitch, but it clearly affected him the rest of the season. From that point forward, he hit .232/.321/.340 with a total of 18 extra-base hits in 293 plate appearances. Bogaerts hadn’t had a prolonged stretch that bad since his first full season of the majors. That it came immediately after he was drilled on the hand by a fastball, and didn’t take any time to let it heal, gives us a pretty good indication of what was at the root of his struggles.
Now with the hand injury fully in the rear-view mirror, there’s every reason to expect Boagerts to pick back up on the trajectory he set for himself over two and a half years before a fastball derailed his 2017 season. That’s enough for him to easily turn a profit at his ADP, but there’s one more piece of hopeful news.
The Red Sox hired Tim Hyers, who spent the last two years with the Dodgers preaching the altar of launch angle, as their new hitting coach. There’s legitimate belief he can inspire the same changes in Bogaerts as he helped bring to life in Justin Turner. Before Hyers joined the Dodgers, Turner had 31 homers in 1,687 career plate appearances. Over the last two seasons, Turner belted 48 homers in 1,165 trips to the plate. Bogaerts may not have the frame of Correa or Seager, but at 6’1” and 210 pounds, he’s bigger than the 5’11”, 205-pound Turner. If Bogaerts can focus on getting more lift more consistently, there may yet be even more power in his bat.
Don’t let Bogaerts’s injury-based setback fool you. That was nothing more than a One-Year Blunder. He’ll be firmly back in the good graces of the fantasy community in 2018.