This is Xander Bogaerts from the 2015 to the 2016 All-Star break:
156 games, 712 plate appearances, 110 runs, 217 hits, 38 doubles, 14 home runs, 94 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, 50 walks, 108 strikeouts, .332 average, .381 on-base, .459 slugging.
And this is Bogaerts from the 2016 All-Star break until his first plate appearance Tuesday night against the Cardinals:
179 games, 781 plate appearances, 109 runs, 190 hits, 35 doubles, 17 home runs, 76 RBIs, 13 steals, 57 walks, 147 strikeouts, .266/.327/.401.
It’s not just fair to ask, it simply must be asked: What in the name of Rey Quinones has happened to the Red Sox’ talented 24-year-old shortstop’s bat over the past year?
(Bogaerts did go 3 for 5 Tuesday night in the Sox’ 10-4 victory.)
Was there some sort of calamity at the 2016 All-Star break that we don’t know about? Did the baseball version of the Looney Tunes Monstars execute a dastardly plan to steal his power? Does he need the glasses Jim Rice refused to wear in the late ’80s?
What is going on here? We need to talk about Bogaerts, because his wet-noodle season with the bat is bewildering and exasperating at once. It makes no sense on the surface.
Bogaerts is already an established, accomplished major league player. As an MLB neophyte with just 50 plate appearances on his baseball-reference page, he was arguably the Red Sox’ second-best hitter to David Ortiz in the 2013 postseason. He finished second in the AL batting race in 2015, hitting .320.
And how about this feat? In his ages 22-23 seasons, he averaged 14 homers, 85 RBIs, and slashed .307/.355/.434. His idol, Derek Jeter, averaged 10 homers, 74 RBIs and slashed .302/.370/.402 at the same ages.
And yet now, bizarrely, he’s hitting like the 40-year-old farewell-tour version of Jeter. What gives? He was supposed to ascend to superstardom. Through the All-Star break a year ago, that’s exactly what he was doing, and rather rapidly.
Since then, he has struggled to meet even modest expectations, let alone the reasonable expectation he would be right there with Houston’s Carlos Correa and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor as cornerstone, franchise-altering American League shortstops for a generation.
In a season in which home runs are flying out of ballparks at a suspicious rate, Bogaerts has just six homers, or as many as the newest Red Sox golden child, Rafael Devers, had in 62 at-bats. He has as many homers as Sandy Leon, one fewer than Chris Young, and two more than Pablo Sandoval had before his exile.
I suspect some of this is because of injury. He was hit on the right hand by a fastball from Rays pitcher Jacob Faria in the first inning of a July 6 game against the Rays. He was pulled from the game in the bottom half of the inning. X-rays were negative and he was diagnosed with a contusion. He sat out the next game, but returned July 8. In 28 games since, he has hit .181 with a .465 OPS. In 115 at-bats, he does not have a home run, his last one coming on July 5 – the day before he was hit.
Fans and media, too, habitually celebrate those who play through injuries, often by throwing around the word grit. The Red Sox were short on infield help when Bogaerts was hit – Eduardo Nunez was still a Giant and Devers was still a Sea Dog — and I suspect he realized the Red Sox couldn’t afford to lose him.
It’s selfless of him in the most obvious sense, but there’s also a hero-ball element to it. When injuries limit players to performing at a fraction of their capability, the appropriate gesture is sometimes to recognize that playing through can be detrimental to the team, too. Fred Lynn took a lot of heat in his day for a reluctance to play hurt. But when he was out there, he gave, and was at, his best. Bogaerts always does the former. But the results suggest he has been nowhere near his physical best since getting hit.
I know, the presumption that he has been playing hurt doesn’t fully explain Bogaerts’s underwhelming performance since last year’s All-Star break, when his representation of the Red Sox at the midsummer classic looked like it would become an annual thing.
Whatever has gone wrong beyond a potential injury must be remedied by the player himself, and right now he still looks lost (he had been in a 1-for-17 slump before Tuesday’s game) I hope he doesn’t become a focus of local ire, but it feels inevitable if his bat doesn’t come to life soon.
The further away we get from that pinnacle of the 2016 All-Star break, the easier it becomes to forget not just how good Bogaerts can be, but how good he was.