Is Xander Bogaerts Fantasy Fool’s Gold?
Everybody loves Xander Bogaerts. Early NFBC ADP data has him going with the 67th pick. In a standard 15-team re-draft league, that equates to a fifth round selection. He is even more highly coveted in dynasty formats, where his combination of youth, production, and projection is one of the best in the game. Tristan Cockroft ranked him as the 29th most valuable player in his annual keeper list, and why wouldn’t he? Bogaerts will enter the 2016 season at the ripe old age of 23, and he is coming off of a 2015 campaign in which he batted .320 while driving in 81 runs and scoring 84 more. As the season progressed, he regularly batted third in a stacked Red Sox lineup, a spot generally reserved for the team’s best hitter. So why is Xander Bogaerts potentially a big ol’ lump of fool’s gold?
Prospect evaluators consistently lauded Bogaerts as a natural hitter with an advanced eye at the plate and excellent bat speed. So when he compiled a .320 batting average and almost 200 hits this season, those who had been following his career were not surprised. Most assumed it was only a matter of time before he began to hit, and this season was just the next step in a natural progression to superstardom. However, not all promising prospects fulfill their potential, and if we take a look under the hood, there are a number of red flags. First, Bogaerts produced a .372 BABIP this season, which was good for fifth best in all of baseball. Research has shown that speed, line drive rate, and pop ups all have strong correlations with in-season BABIP. So was Bogaerts’ lofty BABIP, and in turn, batting average, supported by his peripherals?
His infield hit rate, which was among the league leaders last season, significantly contributed to his BABIP, but he certainly did not possess the premium speed that most of the players atop the leader board exhibited. His 53% ground ball rate certainly contributed to his elevated BABIP, but he was about league average when it comes to line drives. His infield fly ball rate placed him in the top third of the league for all qualified hitters as well, and as we know, these are typically automatic outs. So altogether, we have a player who demonstrated rather unremarkable skills for generating an elevated BABIP, yet his was 73 points higher than the league average last season. His ability to hit the ball to all fields will certainly keep him around the league average for BABIP, but without substantial improvements in at least one of these areas, we can safely predict that this number will regress towards the mean next season, impacting his strongest asset to date.
When it comes to projecting power, one of the most common assumptions among analysts is that as a player reaches his prime, doubles will invariably turn into home runs. This may be the case for burgeoning sluggers, but Bogaerts’ hard contact rate was below average last season, and continues to trend in the wrong direction. As a result, his isolated power has been well below league-average over his first 1,300 plate appearances in the majors. For some points of reference, Didi Gregorious, Alexei Ramirez, and Jose Reyes each posted better ISOs than Bogaerts last season. So while he may have hit 35 doubles in 2015, I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll significantly improve his homerun total this season. With a high ground ball rate, and an opposite field approach, he simply does not get enough loft on the ball or hit it with the authority needed to forecast significant growth in the power department at this time. Bogaerts has made a number of adjustments over the course of his young career, so his approach and contact skills could continue to evolve, but it’s unwise to predict a jump to 15 to 20 home runs simply based on his pedigree.
I won’t spend too much time discussing RBI and run potential moving forward, since these stats are contextual and impossible to predict. Batting from the three hole is definitely a boon for these categories, but his hold on a premium lineup spot may not be as ironclad as the early consensus appears to assume. If the power doesn’t develop and his batting average declines it’ll be an uphill battle to approach last year’s Run and RBI totals.
Put it all together, and you could see a decline in Bogaerts’ production if his skills don’t take a step forward in 2016. If regression knocks him down to a .290 average and the power doesn’t take a step forward, you’ll have paid a steep price for Starlin Castro’s production. So before you project this promising young player to sustain the unsustainable, and accomplish that which he has never accomplished, recognize that past performance does not guarantee future results, and his perceived value may never be higher than it is this offseason. He could take the next step in his development as a hitter, but managers are currently paying for the assumption that he definitely will. Dynasty leaguers who own Bogaerts have an opportunity to mitigate this risk by extracting a profit now and moving him for more established players or reinvesting in top tier prospects. As with any investment, timing is everything, but if you play your cards right, you may just be able to turn a lump of fool’s gold into real dynasty league gold.