The Red Sox are currently tabbed as the favourites in the American League by most experts and odds-makers, but there was a lot of roster turnover from last season so it is difficult to really project their level of success for the coming year. Their positive 2017 outlook is despite losing the face of their franchise and best power hitter, David Ortiz, to retirement. He has been one of the most consistent clean-up hitters in the past decade and so offensively he leaves big shoes to fill (pun intended). The Red Sox offense in 2017 led the majors in most offensive categories like AVG, OBP, SLG, Off WAR component, swStr%, contact% and had the best OPS since the 2009 Yankees. Instead of signing or trading for a big slugger in the offseason to fill this void, Red Sox management looked elsewhere by acquiring one of the majors’ best starting pitchers in Chris Sale. The 2017 Red Sox are now led by a young nucleus of hitters who are projected to carry an offence that is likely going to be one of the best, and the Red Sox are banking on the continuing development of their young offensive talent to help them go far in the postseason.
One player who is expected to make major offensive contributions this season is Xander Bogaerts — a hitter who has shown the ability to hit for an elite batting average (.320 BA in 2015) and display some power (21 HR in 2016). He plays for one of the league’s most scrutinized teams and at one of the most important positions, creating an environment that demands excellence and puts a high level of pressure on a young player. Bogaerts has posted back-to-back seasons with a WAR over 4 and a wOBA over .338 but he achieved these feats in contrasting ways. In 2015, it was driven by an elite batting average, while in 2016 he made some changes to his swing and approach at the plate and was able to hit for a high average (.294) while increasing his home-run total from 7 to 21.
But when we delve into the numbers of his 2016 season, we learn that it was a tale of two halves. His noticeable two-halved season is similar to the 2016 seasons of Matt Carpenter and Kevin Pillar, players who I have written about recently, but these tales were directly related to injuries they sustained. For Bogaerts, however, his change was not due to an injury but from a change in his approach at the plate. This change had a negative effect on most of his offensive statistics and perhaps is a cause for concern for the coming season.
In the first half of the season versus the second half of the season, his batting average fell from .329 to .253, his BB/K fell from 0.59 to 0.37, his OPS dropped by 134 points, and his wOBA dropped by 57 points. The only improvements he displayed was improving his HR/FB ratio from 10.6% to 12.1% and increasing his ISO slightly by 13 points (.146 vs. .159). So what changed, you ask? Well, you can probably tell from interpreting the aforementioned changes in his statistics; he sold out for power. He made a significant change to his ground-ball to fly-ball ratio, as it decreased from 1.62 to 0.98. Below we can see the change in his AVG/P from the first half to the second half of the 2016 season:
He stopped hitting balls to the opposite field, decreasing his Oppo% by 6.3% and increased his Pull% and Cent% by 2.8% and 3.5%, respectively. See below for a summary: