Boston is tied atop the American League East standings, and touts the league’s second-best run differential (plus-85) and highest-scoring lineup. That this is coming after two losing seasons in which the Red Sox finished in the basement of the division — winning an average of 74.5 games — isn’t lost on anyone. In a batting order that leads the majors in all three Triple Crown categories — as well as much more valuable metrics, like WAR, wRC+ and wOBA — Xander Bogaerts, the team’s 23-year-old shortstop, has unquestionably been the lightning rod for Boston’s season thus far.
Playing in his fourth professional season, Bogaerts is hitting .359, the second-highest mark in the league among qualified hitters. Daniel Murphy, the league leader (.369), has 32 fewer plate appearances. As the Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato noted, the Aruba native is on pace to become the fourth player under the age of 24 to hit at least .350 since Ted Williams.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that ESPN’s Buster Olney recently dubbed him the best right-handed hitter in baseball. After all, no player has more hits than Bogaerts since the start of last season. And those hits clearly pay dividends: Boston is 22-7 (.759) this season when he generates at least two hits; when he goes hitless, the team’s 3-7 (.300).
So how is he doing it? Patience and contact.
No one on the Red Sox under Manager John Farell struck out more last season than Bogaerts, who got rung up 101 times and often looked weak-kneed at the plate.
This season, he no longer leads the roster in the less-than-desirable metric, and has dropped his O-Swing Percentage, the proportion of pitches outside the zone that a batter chases, by 3.5 percent. By not haplessly chasing pitches out of the zone, Bogaerts has seen an uptick in walks—from a 4.9 percent walk rate last season to seven percent this year. His career-low swing-strike percentage (8.4), or the number of swings and misses divided by total pitches, encapsulates the notion that he’s locking in on desirable pitches this season and spraying them across the field. As far as contact goes, Bogaerts is indisputably having his most successful professional season raking at the plate. He’s making what’s considered to be hard contact on 32.9 percent of his batted balls, an uptick of 5.5 percent from a season ago.
Only 13 players this season have whacked at least 62 pitches into the field of play with an exit velocity greater than 100 mph. Bogaerts is one. In total, his average exit velocity this season is 91.1 mph, nearly 3 mph higher than it was last season.
“That kid is on another level. He’s on top of his game like nothing I have ever seen before,” David Ortiz told ESPN’s Scott Lauber. “The way he’s playing, he’s the best shortstop in the game — by far. I’d throw my boy against anyone right now in the big leagues.”