Yesterday, I published my first Pod Projection of the year, and the honor was bestowed upon the Dodgers’ hyped young shortstop, Corey Seager. Several commenters asked me to clarify my feelings on Seager’s ADP in relation to Xander Bogaerts, so I figured I might as well expand upon my thoughts on the latter by giving him the full Pod Projection treatment.
Bogaerts, a former top prospect with the Red Sox, completely transformed into a new type of hitter in 2015. It’s odd because this is something you might expect from an established veteran who is compensating for deteriorating skills. Established veteran Bogaerts is not, but the finished product delivered significantly more offensive value than the 2014 version. He struck out far less, though his SwStk% only declined marginally, the respectable minor league power he had displayed in the past declined even further, he became an extreme ground ball hitter, at the expense of fly balls, he went to the opposite field with dramatically greater frequency, and his BABIP skyrocketed. Phew! Is there anything in Bogaerts’ statistical profile that didn’t change drastically?! His line drive and pop-up rates were virtually unchanged, so there’s that!
With all these changes, it makes projecting his 2016 performance that much more difficult. It’s hard enough forecasting a player with just two Major League seasons to his name, so when we cannot even determine a true baseline for his skills, we’re essentially just taking a wild guess. So here goes…
Pod Projections Index:
Plate Appearances: 645
About 55% of Bogaerts’ plate appearances came from the three hole in the Red Sox lineup last year and he figures to stick there to open the season. Since he was basically an empty batting average last year and still remained the third place hitter, it’s seemingly going to take a real disappointing season to get him dropped in the order.
Bogaerts typically displayed pretty good patience in the minors, taking walks at a double digit rate in the Rookie League in 2010, as well as in Double-A and Triple-A in 2013. But his plate patience wore out last year, as he swung at pitches outside the zone at a higher clip and all pitches more than the league average. Because he paired that with better than average contact skills, his walk rate dropped to dangerous territory. It was already low in 2014, so the further drop is concerning. That said, I’m betting on a rebound as walk rate rises as hitters mature.
Aside from that 2010 stint in the Rookie League, Bogaerts had never posted a strikeout rate as low as he did with the Sox in 2015. It was a huge improvement from his 2014 mark, but not supported by a corresponding improvement in SwStk%. If he becomes a bit more patient as my BB% forecast suggests, and posts a similar SwStk%, his strikeout rate is going to jump back up. However, I expect it to remain much better than his 2014 mark given his better than average ability to make contact.
GB%/LD%/FB%: 48.5% / 21% / 30.5%
This was a difficult projection. His ground ball rate spiked from 38.1% in 2014 to 52.7% in 2015. Batted ball distribution is one of the more stable skills, so it’s not often you see such a dramatic shift here. My projection is almost his career rate, but simply applying a slightly higher weight to 2015. There is opportunity for power upside that stems from the possibility of a higher fly ball rate, back to where he sat in 2014.
Since his batted ball profile has sat at opposite ends of the spectrum in 2014 and then 2015, it’s no surprise that his xBABIP has been up and down. In 2014 as a fly ball hitter who rarely went the opposite way, his xBABIP was .293, virtually identical to his actual mark of .296. In 2015, his BABIP surged to .372, but it wasn’t supported by his xBABIP. That mark did jump, but to only .329, suggesting some truly good fortune last year. Fenway Park inflates BABIP, so I’m betting that Bogaerts holds onto some of the skills that increased his xBABIP last year, but that his luck evens out.
HR/FB Ratio: 8.0%
For a supposed power hitter, Bogaerts’ power output so far has been measly. His career ISO stands at just .111 and HR/FB rate at a disappointing 6.5%. Perhaps his batted ball distance provides some optimism? Nope, it just validates the weak power display. His distance was just about 269 feet in 2014 and an even worse 266 feet in 2015. That’s bad and forces us to blindly hope he suddenly rediscovers some of the power that he left back in the minors. Unfortunately, projections aren’t built on blind hope, so there’s no projecting any kind of major breakout. However, he’s still just 23, has shown good minor league power, and so improvement is definitely what one should expect. An 8% HR/FB rate would represent a new career high, though it’s still likely below what we think he is capable of.
Runs and RBI: 72 and 76
Hitting in the third hole behind solid OBP guys is an excellent spot, but he hasn’t yet shown the home run power needed to tally the type of runs batted in total we typically expect from a third hole hitter. Even with the new career high HR/FB rate I’m projecting, 76 runs batted in is one of the lowest marks I’m projecting for hitters projected to hit in the three spot. He’s highly unlikely to repeat the high rate of runners he knocked in last year. Similarly, he’s unlikely to score as often as he did last year given the projected drop in OBP. He also scored at a much higher rate than the typical third slot hitter, especially for someone with basically average speed.
He more than doubled his stolen base attempts last year and never swiped more than eight bases in the minors. As noted above, he seemingly has just about average speed, so I’m projecting a bit of a drop back in his stolen bases this year.
Below is my final projected fantasy batting line, along with the other systems for comparison.
Wellll, I was the bullish man for Seager, it now looks like I’m the low man on the totem pole for Bogaerts (my wOBA projection is easily the lowest of the systems). We’re all similar enough in the runs scored and runs batted in projections, as well as stolen bases. Interestingly, ZiPS and I forecast the same homers, while Steamer and Fans are together. My bearishness stems from the batted ball distance data, whereas Steamer is most certainly still looking at historical minor league performance. I am, too, of course, which led me to project a new career high HR/FB rate. But it’s tempered by the pathetic batted ball distance.
Steamer’s home run projection represents a big jump, so I’m wondering if they are also forecasting a large rebound in fly ball rate. Otherwise, it seems as if they are projecting something like a 10% to 10.5% HR/FB rate, which is double what he posted last year! Certainly it could happen, but you don’t expect it to see that as the actual projection.
I’m surprised that all systems, except me, are projecting only slight regression in his strikeout rate, especially given his history. That disconnect, plus a BABIP in the mid-.330 range, are why all the other systems project an average around .290-.300.
Perhaps I’m unreasonably pessimistic here. But let’s assume that Bogaerts does hit around .290 and goes 15-7 (HRs and SBs) with 150 runs scored + runs batted in. Does that seriously justify a pick around 55th overall?! If I change my projections to match what I just laid out, that would push him up to about 73rd overall on my LABR values. Compared to what he’s done the last two seasons, I think that projection is optimistic to begin with, so you’re hoping for even further upside from that projection just to break even! So I remain baffled by his draft hype and maintain my feeling that he’s quite overvalued.
I absolutely could be proven wrong, as any youngster could technically break out at any time and improve their skills in a hurry. But you can’t pay for what could possibly be at a draft, as that’s simply not a winning strategy.
Am I crazy or do you agree with my forecast? What do you project for Xander Bogaerts in 2016?
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.