Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (Aug. 7, 2018 – Source: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America)
There are many Boston Red Sox hitters who are enjoying career years at the plate. The first person to come to mind would probably be Mookie Betts, going from a slightly above-average hitter in 2017 to one of the game’s elite hitters in 2018. Most everyone is aware of Betts’ monster ’18 campaign. The dude has a shot at the American League MVP and is hitting at a Mike Trout-esque level.
Still, it appears there can be argument that Xander Bogaerts is the most improved hitter on the 2018 Red Sox. He’s not close to Betts or J.D. Martinez‘s in terms of offensive value, but he may have changed himself the most (for the better). Bogaerts was coming from a lower ceiling than the Red Sox right fielder, after all.
This argument is relative to the players’ respective best offensive season. Even if you disagree with my assertion, which has not been backed up by quantitative analysis, that’s fine. The point of this post is not about who has gotten better the most (ignore the title). Instead, this is designed to enlighten people on the extent of Boston’s shortstop’s adjustments this season.
To start, as outlined in the Daily Dose, Bogaerts has improved his Z-Swing% (percentage of pitches swung at in the strike zone) more than any Red Sox batter this year. He is swinging at 61.3 percent of pitches in the strike zone in ’18 compared to 53.0 percent in ’17. For those proficient in math, that’s an 8.3 percent increase, which (among qualified hitters) is the third-highest bump in Z-Swing% from 2017 to 2018 in all of baseball.
Alex Cora and Co. came into the season preaching the team to swing at more strikes. No one has taken it to heart more than Boggie and, while one cannot prove a correlation exists, it seems logical that his improved offensive numbers are a direct result of this. Swinging at strikes is good because they are, generally, better pitches to hit than ones outside the zone. Of course, all strikes are not created equal yet this stat is illuminating because it is such a dramatic increase.
Further, he has swung at less pitches outside of the strike zone, dropping his O-Swing% by 2.9 percent from last year to this year. That is the best among qualified Red Sox hitters. Initially, with the Z-Swing% rise on its own, there could be a viable argument that the hand injury affected his pitch selection. If he’s in a great deal of pain (and it sounds like he was), then being more passive at all pitches would seem to make sense. What does not make sense is swinging at balls and not at strikes with the infliction of the extremity injury.
Consequently, better pitch selection seems to be somewhat of a conscious goal for the right-handed hitter and it’s led to real improvement. Starting with the surface-level stuff, his 132 wRC+ this season is way superior to his previous career-high of a 115 wRC+, which came in 2016.
Moreover, and perhaps obviously, he has hit for considerably more power in 2018. Like, to reiterate, the amount of power he has flashed this year is leaps and bounds better than in any year in his career. He has the highest jump in ISO (.130 to .240) from ’17 to ’18 in baseball. Improvement. For the record, Mookie Betts has the third-highest increase in ISO in the league.
With this much added power, it should not be shocking that the X-Man is setting a career-high in Hard% (hard-hit percentage) at 38.2 percent. He also has experienced the lowest percentage of soft contact (Soft%) in any season, sans 2013, which was an abbreviated rookie campaign.
Bogaerts is also putting more balls in the air and less on the ground this year, but that may be more of the result of being healthy. His GB/FB ratio of 1.30 is the same it was in his All-Star 2016 season. His batted ball outcomes are not tremendously different, which sometimes corresponds with an offensive improvement of this magnitude.
With that said, he is also setting career highs in Barrel% (10.1 percent), xwOBA (.381) and average exit velocity (90.9 mph). It is not even as if he is setting these StatCast highs by a small margin. No, he is exceeding his underlying offensive stats demonstrably. Before this, his career high in Barrel% was 5.3 percent while his career-high xwOBA was .315 and his average exit velocity 88.8 mph.
Improvement. So much sweet improvement.
Lastly, do you know which player has the second highest improvement in WPA (win probability added) from last to this season? Yeah, you know who it is. Bogaerts trails only Rougned Odor in this category, boosting his WPA a staggering 4.10 this year.
As many have stated, including myself on numerous occasions, it is absolutely bewildering that Xander Bogaerts is the third-best position player on his team. The season he is having is legitimate and this is, by far, the most superior season the Aruba native has ever had. He probably won’t be anointed Comeback Player of the Year but he should be able to take home the Most Improved Red Sox Hitter award, which will be determined by me and will not provide any type of accolade.
In other words, this 25-year-old is incredibly fun to watch on a nightly basis and he keeps getting better.
All stats are courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant. Furthermore, all stats are current as of August 28, 2018.