Xander Bogaerts is swinging at more pitches and the results are impressive
Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (March 30, 2018 – Source: Brian Blanco/Getty Images North America)
Xander Bogaerts‘ 2017 season was defined by a nasty hand injury suffered in early July. He was one of the superior hitting shortstops pre-injury but became a below-average one post-injury. What should have been another strong offensive season for the Aruba-native was seemingly hindered by the affliction. The numbers back this claim up, with a 114 wRC+ pre-injury (July 6th) and a 74 wRC+ post injury. A tale of two halves, indeed.
Due to the convenient splits, it is easy to ascribe the entirety of Bogey’s offensive struggles to the injury. With that said, there is an underlying problem in his ’17 profile that may offer up an alternative explanation, at least in part, for his offensive decline. Among all qualified players last season, Xander Bogaerts swung at the lowest amount of pitches in the zone with a 53.0 Z-Swing% (zone-swing percentage).
The season before that he offered at 59.1% of pitches in the zone and in 2015 he did so at 64.0%. The bottom line is swinging at pitches in the zone a mere 53% of the time was abnormal for him.
On the other side of the ledger, it was not as if he was just an all-around disciplined hitter. In fact, his 32.8 O-Swing% (outside the zone swing percentage) was pretty far above the 2017 league average (29.9%). Basically, Bogaerts was swinging at strikes at the lowest rate among everyday players and swinging at balls more than the average player. Logically, that is not a practical recipe for success.
Theoretically, the injury could have impacted the two-time Silver Slugger’s plate selection. Although, I find it odd that a hand injury would make him more cautious at hacking at pitches in the zone but more inclined to hack at the ones out of the zone. Truthfully, I am not too concerned with the “why” of his plate discipline struggles. What has happened has happened. The injury may have had something to do with it, but let’s put that to rest for now.
With the ’17 season in the books, Bogaerts has responded with a scorching start to 2018. As of this writing, he leads the league in doubles (5), accompanied by a jaw-dropping .471 AVG/.471 OBP/.941 SLG slash line. Sure, this has been accumulated in just 17 plate appearances, a sample size too small to take away much of anything from. I mean, Scooter Gennett hit four homeruns in a game last year and he has yet to become Mike Trout.
Regardless, Bogey has been mashing baseballs, with six hard extra-base hits to begin the young season. No one can take that away from him. While an overriding majority of this early-season success can be attributed to random variance, there probably is something to be said about his different approach at the plate.
Through the first four games of the year, the X-Man has swung at a relatively astonishing 75.0% of pitches in the zone. Meanwhile, he is also swinging at more pitches outside of the zone, offering at 38.1% of them. Putting it altogether, Bogey ranks seventh among all qualified players in Swing%, with a 60.4% in the early going,
Yeah, that is an aggressive Bogaerts, one who is seeing positive results in terms of bat-on-ball contact. He has yet to draw a walk at this juncture.
Anyway, I think this is more notable than a typical small sample size worth of data. Early in Spring Training, Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson reported that manager Alex Cora and hitting coach Tim Hyers were advocating for Bogaerts to be more aggressive at the plate.
This was a conscious goal set by Boston and Bogaerts and the results have been fantastic thus far. I do not think it is erroneous to assume Bogaerts is more likely to stick with the new approach because of the early and recent success with it. Primacy effect and recency bias are things that influence people.
The caveat, and I am being redundant because I do believe it’s important, is that it’s just four games. 4 of 162. This is not nearly enough of a viable sample to draw anything conclusive from. Then again, the numbers are not entirely meaningless. Xander Bogaerts is hitting baseballs with authority, consciously using a new, more aggressive approach. Above all, it is certainly worth keeping an eye on as the season progress. Stay tuned.