The Xander Bogaerts Comeback Tour is in Full Swing

Since Xander Bogaerts burst onto the scene with his 2013 rookie year playoff performance, his time with the Red Sox has had its fair share of ups and downs. Having only played 18 regular season games in 2013, Bogaerts came alive in Boston’s World Series run. Batting .296 with 2 RBI, giving Red Sox Nation a reason to be excited for this young shortstop.

Xander Bogaerts

His role increased dramatically in 2014 and thereafter; he hasn’t played in less than 140 games since the 2013 season. The shortstop position for the Red Sox has been a carousel since the departure of Nomar Garciaparra in 2004, and Xander Bogaerts looked to be the man to fill the void and finally afford the Red Sox some stability at one of the most important positions on the diamond.

Xander Bogaerts: Red Sox Shortstop

In 2014, Bogaerts’ first season as full-time shortstop, the 21-year-old left Red Sox Nation underwhelmed and wanting more, posting only a .240 batting average with 46 RBI in nearly 600 plate appearances.

Over the next two seasons, Bogaerts finally validated the excitement surrounding his rookie year with two consecutive Silver Slugger Awards. His batting average skyrocketed to .320 in 2015 and his RBI total nearly doubled. He showed even more improvement in 2016, driving in a career-high 89 runs and playing his way onto the American League All-Star Team for the first and only time in his young career.

Then 2017 happened. Bogaerts, battling a hand injury in the second half of the year, swung his way right back into Red Sox Nation’s doghouse, batting only .273 with a meager 62 RBI, despite playing in only 9 fewer games than his All-Star 2016 season.

The Future of Xander Bogaerts

With Boston’s significant grocery list of contractual obligations, Bogaerts’ future with the Red Sox after 2017 was uncertain. But through six games, it looks as if “X” is returning to his All-Star form.

Xander Bogaerts currently leads the team in batting average (.357), hits (10), and doubles (5). He joins Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, and Eduardo Nunez as the team’s home run leaders with one so far.

Statistics aside, the eye-test alone is promising enough. Bogaerts is simply hitting the ball harder than last year, despite the small sample-size. While that may just be a result of his healthy hand, it also suggests that he may have figured out his swing after his first few seasons were plagued with inconsistency.

Will he be the Red Sox shortstop for years to come? Only time will tell, as this team is no stranger to instability at his position. His explosive start to the 2018 campaign is very promising, not only for his future, but for a Red Sox offense trying to find its rhythm and compete with the firepower of the Yankees.

The Sox have their first test against their rivals this Tuesday when the Yankees visit Fenway Park at 7:10pm.

Red Sox Have To Adjust Their Home Run Swings

It’s hard to hit a home run in Fenway, especially if you’re a visiting player. The Green Monster has robbed hundreds, if not thousands of home runs, from hitters. Right field isn’t much better with its deep unique corners. Red Sox hitters learn how to adjust their home run swings for the contours of Fenway. But they find it difficult to adjust in other ballparks.

I noticed this when I was in Baltimore last weekend for their series against the Orioles.home run swings Pablo Sandoval hit a bomb to left field that would have cleared the Green Monster. But it’s between 333-364 feet to left/left center in Camden Yards. That’s another few dozen feet that a ball has to travel for a home run. Sandoval has already hit a few homers over the Green Monster this season. However, the can of corn he hit in Baltimore shows he needs to hit for a tad more power. If Sox players like Sandoval want to hit home runs, they have to remember that most outfields are deeper than Fenway’s.

Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a home run in the second series game that traveled over 450 feet. The ball itself almost hit the B&O Warehouse that overshadows Camden Yards. Ken Griffey Jr. is the only MLB player who has hit the warehouse in Camden Yards’ twenty-five year history. But Bradley Jr. is a lefty and it’s 380 to right center field in Fenway. Bradley hits for power, hence the distance on the home run.

The way the Red Sox hit during the Baltimore series clearly showed that they’re used to playing in Fenway.

Red Sox Have to Adjust Their Home Run Swings When They’re On the Road

The Red Sox can hit for power. Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are becoming home run hitters. Xander Bogaerts isn’t there yet but he will be. Andrew Benintendi still has a ways to go before he’s a power hitter. But players like Sandoval can’t hit to left thinking it’ll clear the wall when they’re in a different ballpark. The Wall, despite its height, its much closer to home than most left fields.

If these hitters want to add more runs to the board they need to look at each ballpark they play in and adjust their home run swings accordingly.

David Ortiz Doubles Machine

Only three players in baseball history have amassed more than 600 doubles and 500 home runs. The first was Hank Aaron, baseball’s home run king from 1974-2007. The second was Barry Bonds—baseball’s home run king since then. They were recently joined by David Ortiz doubles machine. Ortiz finds himself in pretty good company, alongside two of the greatest hitters who ever lived. Now, please tell me why he’s not a Hall of Famer.

David Ortiz Doubles Machine

When David Ortiz joined the 500 home run clubs last year, few were aware that he was David Ortiz Doubles Machinealso on the verge of 600 doubles. If anything, people probably assumed Ortiz had fewer doubles than home runs, given that he’s never been particularly fast.

And yet, Ortiz was racking up doubles long before he learned to hit the long ball. When he joined Boston in 2003, he had twice as many career two-baggers (76) as four-baggers (38). Moving to Fenway—a doubles paradise—ensured Ortiz would continue piling up two-base hits as long as he wore a Red Sox uniform. Thankfully, Ortiz has only donned the blue and navy since 2003.

Still, 600 doubles is a lot. Ted Williams didn’t reach that benchmark, and neither did Willie Mays. It’s a milestone that longtime teammate Manny Ramirez fell short of, as did Wade Boggs—another doubles machine who spent a considerable portion of his career in Boston. To get there, one must average 30 doubles a year for 20 years. This is Ortiz’s 20th season, so I’ll let you do the math.

It may come as something of a surprise that as great as Ortiz has been at hitting home runs—his 513 rank 22nd all-time—he’s been even better at hitting doubles. He’s one of only 15 players to total 600 in his career and has the most of any active player. His next two-bagger will tie Bonds on the all-time list, and assuming he hits 25 more over the rest of the season (a reasonable assumption given that he hit 31 from this date forward last year), he’ll leapfrog Aaron into the top 10.

Unless he plays until he’s 50, Ortiz isn’t catching Bonds or Aaron on the home run list. But there’s a strong likelihood he winds up with more doubles than either of them, and that’s quite an accomplishment.

How Many Home Runs Will Hanley Ramirez Hit?

Hanley Ramirez

On Wednesday night, Hanley Ramirez received a flat, 78-mph knuckleball from R.A. Dickey of the Toronto Blue Jays, and, with one trademark, helmet-dislodging swing, launched a long home run over the Green Monster in left field. It was the 10th homer of the season for Ramirez, tying him with Seattle’s Nelson Cruz for the Major League lead, and equaling David Ortiz’s 2006 record for most round-trippers by a Red Sock before May 1st.

Naturally, when a player achieves something only done once before in franchise history, Hanley Ramirezpeople begin to take notice. In the case of Ramirez, fans instantly began to wonder about the sustainability of his incredible pace, with many attempting to project just how many home runs he could possibly hit this season.

On a purely mathematical level, Hanley is currently on pace to hit 77 home runs, through a full 162-game slate. This, of course, would break the all-time single season record of 73, set by Barry Bonds in 2001. Obviously, that just isn’t going to happen. Eventually, pitchers will adjust to Ramirez, who, undoubtedly, will experience slumps throughout the season, as is the failure-based nature of baseball.

Moreover, Hanley has typically struggled to remain healthy for a full season and, in recent years, the left fielder has required occasional days off to rest his ageing body. For instance, in the past four full seasons, Ramirez has played 115 games on average, due to injury and subsequently cautious management of his playing time.

Interestingly, at his current pace, Hanley would hit 54 home runs through 115 games played, which, of course, would equal the Red Sox single-season record, set by Ortiz in 2006. However, such a figure seems unlikely in the long run of a Major League season. Ramirez can be a very streaky hitter, and his aggressive approach may lead to more strikeouts once pitchers begin to catch up in mid-season.

But, in the spirit of fair argument, it is important to point out that, through April, Hanley showed a large increase in line-drive percentage (33%) compared with his career average (21%), and currently has a batting average right around .300 despite a BABIP in the low .230s. This suggests that, in the early going, Ramirez has been a flat-out better hitter than what he was in recent seasons; perhaps better in April 2015 than he has been at any point throughout his career.

Hanley Ramirez

Furthermore, 30.3% of Hanley’s fly balls this season have resulted in home runs, which, considering the league average of 9.5%, is quite astonishing, and indicates his fresh determination to take advantage of the famous left field wall at Fenway, which can convert even the laziest of flies into a homer. Whilst, overall, Ramirez has hit better on the road this year, his swing has seemingly been transformed due to the temptation of the Green Monster, with 80% of his home runs so far going to left field, compared with 53% last season, which he spent with the Dodgers.

Therefore, where pitchers adjusting and Hanley slumping may detract from his ultimate home run total in 2015, a new pull approach and the friendly confines of Fenway may make up the difference. Thus, while Bonds’ record won’t come under threat, and Ortiz’s franchise mark should remain intact, Hanley Ramirez, health-permitting, may well hit between 45 and 50 home runs this year, which would be one of the top five home run-hitting seasons in Red Sox history.

On Base Is Key to Success

on base

Courtesy of mathworld.wolfram.com

Getting on base is key for this team this year, and there are plenty of guys that can make that happen. The other important step toward greatness is playing as a team. The kind of camaraderie that we saw back in 2004 is what made the difference and got us to the World Series. The latter is a club house culture issue, while the former revolves around filling the bases and getting players in position to score. What makes the difference? Runs. Just runs. Not home runs. Even walks would be fine. Fans love the excitement of a home run, but better than that is seeing a player cross home plate. Home runs do not translate to game wins. They do translate into ticket sales. The “Bash Brothers” era of the late 1990s is a perfect example of that phenomenon. No longer is that the shape of the game.

on base

Courtesy of WEEI.com

As my father says, the Red Sox can learn a lot from high school or college level girls’ fast pitch softball. Make contact with the ball, any way you can, bunt if you wish, and then get on base. Obviously this is far more easily said then done, but it is food for thought as John Farrell starts to sculpt his roster. Two rounds of cuts have been made so far. As a result of the last round of cuts, Alex Hassan will go back to Pawtucket to gain more experience and knuckleballer Steven Wright will throw more pitches in Rhode Island. This takes one more person out of the running for an outfield position. Will this further open the door for Jackie Bradley Jr’s hot bat and defensive prowess, who knows? I believe Bradley Jr. will not be able to come up any sooner than mid-June, while they aim to get Will Middlebrooks, Pedro Ciriaco, among others, ready for major league play.

During yesterday’s game against the Minnesota Twins, Jacoby Ellsbury and Ciriaco got on base. In fact, Ellsbury was on base three times with a hit, RBI, and a walk. Others were able to follow suit, setting up scoring opportunities.  Middlebrooks came up with the movement around the bases that we needed, making contact with the ball for a double.

Thursday’s roster hit, got on base, played as a team, and it ended in a 7-3 win. I hope the Red Sox coaches and players see what is possible if these trends continue.