Xander Bogaerts is the wunderkind of the Red Sox’ newest batch of prospects. His calling card in the minors was his ridiculous hitting – give him 100 plate appearances in any minor league level and he’d have it all figured out. Bogaerts made pitchers look silly for not giving him four balls and a free base. Combine that with a great eye for the strike zone and you’d see why he was so highly touted.
In the majors, Bogaerts did experience that sort of a revelation. After logging his required 100 MLB PA in April, the month of May was kind to the infielder, as Bogaerts slashed a very respectable .327/.407/.490 over 118 PA. Since then…he’s been less than very forgettable. He’s hit .133 since May, one of the worst marks in all of baseball in that span. It’s shocking to see it happen so quickly, especially for a player known for his bat. So what exactly have pitchers exploited with Bogaerts?
First off, let’s look at what Bogaerts has made contact with year:
He’s absolutely wrecked anything up and in, showing off that bat speed. But as you get farther down and farther away, the contact begins to drop off. It gets bad at anything around the knees. The league average contact rate is roughly 70%, and with all those blue squares showing numbers less than 70, you notice that Bogaerts just cannot touch anything lower than his thighs. That’s a pretty big hole.
Pitchers took about two months to finally pitch to his weaknesses. At first, they tried to overpower him with fast and hard pitches in the zone:
This covers most of Bogaerts’ hot streak, and it’s pretty heavy on the pitches down and outside. However, he’s still seeing a healthy amount in the zone. With all those zone-bound pitches, Bogaerts feasted, posting the triple slash listed earlier. The shortstop has hit a fantastic .336/.426/.521 against four-seam fastballs all season. The pitchers know they couldn’t beat him that way.
Then the pitchers got wise:
Low and away pitches ended up being Bogaerts’ kryptonite. He couldn’t adjust to anything going down and out. Sure, his line against four-seamers was still great, but his seasonal line against sliders is much less pretty: .141/.186/.169. Sliders tend to end up in that bright red square. He’s got what I like to call Adrian Beltre Syndrome, after having witnessed his flailing at sliders in the first half of 2010.
Sadly, sliders aren’t Bogaerts’ only concern. Let’s reference that contact percentage chart again. Everything low is laying waste to his offense. Which means that curveballs are also giving him some eyesores for stats: .077/.225/.077. It’s pretty ugly, but since he’s seen 150 less curveballs than sliders, it’s secondary to his aforementioned issues.
Regardless of the pitch, Bogaerts is still toting a measly .303 wOBA with an 86 wRC. The last month has torpedoed any offensive rates he’s got. This is his first real wall as a rookie. Just an obstacle on his way to greatness. Obviously, he wasn’t going to come to the majors and set fire to the league right away, but he was expected to adapt. In May, we saw that happen, and the Red Sox reaped the results. Back in 2010, Beltre adapted in the second half, ended up slashing .321/.365/.553, and was rewarded with a five-year, $96 million contract from the Texas Rangers.
I’m not saying it’s easy to change your game plan at the plate. If it were easy, everyone would do it, and the league’s cumulative OPS wouldn’t be a lackluster .706. I’m saying that eventually, Bogaerts will adapt. We’ll just have to wait and see, but with the Red Sox giving developmental time to their prospects, he’ll have plenty of time to go back to being amazing. This is how good hitters become great.