Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts has played 48 games in the majors and had 177 plate appearances. That’s enough to form an opinion of him, but not remotely enough to have a clear picture.
But these statistics are certainly odd:
■ Bogaerts with runners in scoring positions over the last two seasons: 5 of 41 (.122) with a .416 OPS.
■ Bogaerts without runners in scoring position the last two seasons: 36 of 110 (.327) with an .867 OPS.
That’s a pretty stark contrast. The instant reaction would be to say that he isn’t clutch, and that’s fine if you choose to label a 21-year-old player based on a small sample size. But it’s not that easy. David Ortiz and Derek Jeter are generally regarded as being “clutch players,” but their career statistics are slightly worse or about the same in high-leverage, late-inning situations. But because they’ve had big hits in the postseason, or to win games, their reputations are burnished.
The question of clutch makes for a good baseball debate. Even statistical analysts who once laughed off the idea acknowledge there is something to the idea that some players respond better in pressure situations. Within clubhouses, there are few doubts. Ortiz seemed to have what amounted to magical powers in the postseason last season based on the reaction of his teammates.
The reality is usually this: Good hitters are clutch hitters because good hitters tend to get hits whether somebody is on base or not. There can be statistical variances from month to month and season to season, but over the course of time, talent plays.
Jonny Gomes hit .346 with runners in scoring position last season with a .991 OPS. He previously was a .265 hitter with runners in scoring position. Fortunately for Gomes, his upswing came at the right time and helped produce a World Series championship.
Bogaerts is too talented and too disciplined at the plate for this to continue much longer. But there are surely some adjustments he can make. His patience has gotten him down in the count in some high-leverage situations and perhaps he feels the pressure to live up to what are lofty expectations. Whether it’s a teammate, a coach, or manager John Farrell, the rookie probably needs a reminder that he doesn’t have to be all things to all people right away.
Dustin Pedroia was 3 for 26 with runners in scoring position in 2006. Then he had two RBIs in his first 21 games of 2007. It turned out the Red Sox were right about Pedroia all along. His talent played.
The same is true of Bogaerts. The statistic that really matters is that he’s hitting .280 with a .768 OPS at the age of 21 in cold weather against pitchers he doesn’t know much about. Through Tuesday, Bogaerts is 10th in OPS among shortstops in the majors and second in OBP.
The RBIs are going to come. And once they do, they won’t stop.