Xander Bogaerts Giving Red Sox Hope in 2015

Coming into a season as an alleged “super prospect” does not always work well for a major league ballplayer. Xander Bogaerts would know all about it, as he has been either at or near the top of prospect lists for the past few seasons. His performance in the 2013 postseason reinforced his star prospect status, and much was expected of him in 2014. There could be a fair argument that too much was expected of a 21-year-old shortstop with only about a month and a half’s worth of major league experience, and needless to say Bogaerts has performed well below expectation in 2014. Until now. Since the beginning of September, Bogaerts has been a complete house on fire, and is (again) giving both the Red Sox and their fans reason to hope for big things in 2015.

Bogaerts has had an uneven season, to say the least. Before the completely unnecessary Stephen Drew signing in mid-May, Bogaerts was having a solid season. From the beginning of the season up until Drew’s signing on May 20, Bogaerts put together a respectable .270/.372/.378 line, with a .341 wOBA and 115 wRC+. Now this obviously does not come in a huge sample size (172 plate appearances), but a season’s worth of production at that level would at least have a player in the conversation for the Rookie of the Year Award. But as Red Sox fans are well aware, the subsequent move to third base (again unnecessary) seemed to unravel Bogaerts entirely. From that point until the end of August, he struggled to a .201/.252/.313 line, exhibiting shaky (at best) shortstop defense. But perhaps the midseason dump of Drew to the Yankees (who better) was the motivation needed for Bogaerts to find his stroke. There is something to be said for job security, and moving back to a more natural defensive position could have been the spark to Bogaerts’ recent revival.

The revival in question much resembles last October, when Red Sox Nation sat in awe of the young shortstop. Since the beginning of the month, Bogaerts has been a completely different player entirely, as if there was an imposter in his place up to that point. While coming in another admittedly small sample size (just 61 PA), Bogaerts’ line in September currently sits at .368/.383/.649, with an incredible .444 wOBA and 186 wRC+. Whether there have been changes in Bogaerts’ stance, swing, or approach are tough to judge in such a small sample, but whatever he is currently doing is working.

After such a miserable season for Bogaerts, both at the plate and in the field, it is vital that he end the season on a good note. The Red Sox need Bogaerts to prove that he is in fact the shortstop of the future, and that the shortstop job should unquestionably be his going into Spring Training. A stretch like this is exactly what he needs to regain his confidence going into next year, and to help transform him into the superstar that was on display last fall.

Can The RedSox Fix Allen Craig?

At the time of the deadline deal with St. Louis involving John Lackey, Allen Craig was a complete mystery. After posting a weighted runs created of at least 134 in each of the previous two seasons, Craig was slumping badly in 2014 to the point where the Cardinals deemed him expendable. The Red Sox had interest in him as a buy-low candidate that could potentially add some thump to the lineup. The only problem so far is that Craig has been much worse in Boston than he was in St. Louis. Much (.100/.250/.200), much (36.7 K%, .148 BABIP) worse (.278 wOBA, 74 wRC+). So what exactly is going on with Allen Craig, and can the Red Sox ever expect him to get back to being the middle of the lineup force he was with the Cardinals?

One of the anomalies of Craig’s struggles is that his batted-ball profile has very little year over year variation. Craig’s linedrive (21.4%), groundball (46.4%), and flyball rates (32.1%) with the Red Sox are almost identical to his career rates (22.8%, 46.6 %, and 30.6% career, respectively), so there is really nothing there to be concerned with. As mentioned above, his BABIP and strikeout rate with the Red Sox are abysmal, and this could be playing a role in the off year. During his productive years with the Cardinals, Craig posted unusually high BABIPs (.334, .368), so some regression should have been expected. However, there has to be something else at play here than just a ridiculously low batting average on balls in play.

Could there be something in the way pitchers are attacking Craig in the American League? When compared with his career marks to date, it seems that pitchers in the AL have a different gameplan against Craig than those in the Senior Circuit. With the Red Sox Craig is seeing fewer fastballs (47.9% with Red Sox, 55.3% career), roughly the same amount of sliders (17.1%, 17.5%) and changeups (9.2%, 9.5%), and many more splitters (5.1%, 1.6%). The splitter has been a serious problem for Craig this season, as he is currently half a run below the average hitter (-0.5 wSF) against the splitter on the year. Craig has also been below average against the slider (-2.2 wSL) and changeup (-0.6) in Boston, giving him little advantage in the box. This breakdown makes it pretty clear why Craig has been seeing fewer fastballs in Boston.

Baseball is a game of adjustments, and it is no different here. While it is much easier said than done, Allen Craig needs to adjust to the different way he is being pitched with the Red Sox. Craig is seeing fewer fastballs because he has been bad against offspeed stuff in 2014. Pitchers notice this trend and feature splitters and changeups and breaking stuff; Craig needs to adapt. Pitchers have adjusted to him, now he needs to adjust to how he is being pitched. Along with that, the strikeouts need to come down as well, but that can be addressed if Craig gains a better understanding of how he is being pitched. With a few tweaks to his approach, there is reason to believe Craig can be at least a productive hitter for the Red Sox at some point in the future.