With two months to go, we’ll do one more reboot of the tiered shortstop rankings. Perhaps next month we’ll do some keeper rankings. The rankings below were derived by running our rest-of-season depth chart projections through the z-score method with a few names getting moved around by moi.
Anyone who tells you that they expected Bogaerts to do what he is doing this year is full of it. Not that someone was necessarily wrong to be optimistic about Xander, but the manner in which he has had success is surprising. After hitting 12 home runs last year and only being 21 years old, some added power seemed like the category in which Bogaerts was most likely to add to his fantasy value. But with only three home runs in more than 400 PA this year, the power obviously isn’t where the value has come from.
Bogaerts had just a 7.1 percent home run per fly ball rate last year. Considering he hit fly balls more than 40 percent of the time last year, a HR/FB rate closer to league average (around 10 percent) would have put him somewhere in the 18-20 home run range assuming the same number of at bats, a similar batted ball profile and similar strikeout and walk rates. But Bogaerts’ batted ball profile has shifted heavily as his fly ball rate is just 27 percent while he’s hitting ground ball over 50 percent of the time. That’s obviously not a recipe for more dingers, and his HR/FB has been even worse at 3.4 percent as opposed to trending towards league average.
His strikeout and walk rates also aren’t similar to what they were last year. His strikeout rate is down from 23.2 percent to 15.6 percent while his already relatively low walk rate is down from 6.6 percent to 4.0 percent. He’s putting a lot more balls in play this year, and very few of them have been fly balls. With fly balls ending up as hits less often than the other batted ball types, Bogaerts’ batting average has jumped 79 points from where it was last year. Some of it is BABIP luck as a .372 BABIP isn’t likely to hold. But if what Bogaerts has done this year becomes his new norm, he should maintain a higher-than-normal BABIP by making a lot of contact and keeping the ball out of the air.
Ideally Bogaerts would keep his strikeout rate down and start elevating a bit more. The reduction in strikeout rate would be enough to keep his batting average as a positive contribution, but he needs to hit for some power to remain a top fantasy option year in and year out. Relying on a super high BABIP for fantasy value isn’t the greatest idea.
Let’s talk about Kang because a lot of what was discussed with respect to Bogaerts applies to Kang as well. Like Bogaerts, Kang’s biggest fantasy asset to date has been his ability to hit for average, and he has hit for a solid average thanks to a high BABIP and a batted ball profile that doesn’t include many fly balls. Kang strikes out a bit more than Bogaerts and walks a bit more as well, so his batting average could go from good to mediocre whereas Bogaerts’ average would go from really good to just good if the BABIP regressed to average.
For that reason, Kang needs his power production to continue maybe more than Bogaerts needs his to pick up. Kang’s ISO is 66 points higher than Bogaerts’, and he has five more home runs than Bogaerts in about 100 fewer plate appearances. Kang’s HR/FB is safely above average at 13.6 percent, and you can expect it to stay above average so long as he keeps his average fly ball and home run distance up. Kang currently ranks 47th in that stat while Bogaerts ranks 196th. Batted ball distance is a fairly variable statistic, so it would not be unreasonable to expect the gap between the two players in that department to narrow in the future.
Sticking with players who don’t hit many fly balls (though I suspect that’s fairly common for players at this position) Lindor’s batted ball profile through a month and a half in the big leagues looks a lot like that of Bogaerts and Kang. However, it hasn’t translated to an above average BABIP for Lindor. Ball park could have something to do with that as Cleveland has a less friendly park factor for singles than Boston and Pittsburgh.
As far as power, Lindor has gone the Kang route hitting more home runs than was originally projected. When I wrote up his fantasy value upon being called up, the projection systems liked him for four home runs. Giving him the benfeit of the doubt I projected he could hit five, and he has already reached that total and has another two months to go. His HR/FB rate is just north of 13 percent a la Kang. He doesn’t have enough PA to register on the average batted ball distance list, so it’s a bit hard to tell how fluky that output is. But after carrying a 6.1 percent HR/FB rate throughout the minors, it’s not unreasonable to think he’s been hitting for power a bit over his head.
Long story short, he’s beating the average that was projected for him, and that may be something that continues given his batted ball profile and a strikeout rate that is lower than projected. But the power may slow down as we head down the stretch.