Red Sox offseason primer: Shortstop

BOSTON -- How close did Xander Bogaerts come to matching all the preseason hype? Depends when you were watching. Through Memorial Day, the Sox brain trust was taking bows for its shortstop prodigy, who went into June batting .304 and with a .397 on-base average that ranked fourth in the American League.

Check back in September, and you saw almost the same: a .313/.317/.490/.807 slash line, with the dropoff in on-base percentage due to Bogaerts' drawing just two walks in his final 102 plate appearances.

But had you been watching only during the three months in between, you would have concluded the Sox badly overplayed their hand. In a 67-game span from June 1 to Aug. 31, Bogaerts posted a .161/.206/.254/.460 slash line. The batting average and slugging percentage were the lowest of any big leaguer with at least 125 at-bats in that span. The on-base average was the lowest for any player with at least 160 at-bats.

Bogaerts hit poorly on the road (.223). He was awful with runners in scoring position (19-for-124, .153) and not much better with men on base (43-for-223, .193).

It hardly helped, of course, that the Sox wrenched Bogaerts out of the position they had groomed him to play (shortstop), re-signed Stephen Drew and moved Bogaerts to third base after Will Middlebrooks went down with a fractured finger. Some would argue the position shift was the cause of Bogaerts’ prolonged slump, and the pressure to perform rose even further when Drew’s return was disastrous, with the 2013 incumbent never finding his offensive stride after sitting out the first two months for contractual reasons.

Given that Bogaerts went on a tear when the news of Drew’s re-signing was first announced and hit home runs in each of his first two starts at third base, it seems more a matter of convenience than fact that the position change caused him to lose his way. A more likely explanation: Major league pitchers discovered the holes in the 21-year-old’s plate approach and exposed them mercilessly until he finally was able to make the necessary adjustments, especially to the steady diet of sliders that had Bogaerts striking out at an alarming rate.

That’s the backdrop to the sixth in our series of position-by-position breakdowns:

Red Sox shortstop performance this season (major league rankings):

  • Batting average: .250, 19th

  • On-base percentage: .316, 11th

  • Slugging percentage: .369, 18th

  • Home runs: 11, 11th

  • Extra-base hits: 46, tied for 13th

  • Offensive WAR: 1.4, 22nd

  • Wins Above Replacement: 0.7, 25th

  • Errors: 12, 4th

  • Total Zone Runs Above Average: -6, 21st

  • Shortstops used: 5

Offensive stats: Xander Bogaerts 98 G, .266/.333/.391/.724, 7 HR, 33 RBI; Stephen Drew 38, .176/.255/.328/.583, 4, 11; Jonathan Herrera 14, .234/.265/.340/.606, 0, 3; Brock Holt 12, .314/.352/.333/.685, 0, 1; Jemile Weeks 3, .429/.595/.429/.974, 0, 1.

Defensive stats: Bogaerts 10 E, -6 Total Zone Runs Above Average; Drew 2 E, 0 TZRAA. Herrera, Holt, Weeks 0 E.

Best performance: “Best” is a relative term here. Bogaerts had his moments early and ended on an upswing, but the Sox expected his transition to the big leagues to go more smoothly than it did.

Biggest disappointment: Drew’s decision to turn down Boston’s qualifying offer might have been admirable on principle, but it had a devastating impact on his performance and leaves him with little leverage in negotiating a multi-year deal with a club going forward.

Biggest surprise: Brock Holt might not have the tools to play short every day, but he certainly demonstrated he can be a more-than-adequate fill-in at the position.

Outlook for 2015: Bogaerts is far from a finished product at short, especially defensively, but he certainly has shown enough promise for the Sox to remain confident he will evolve into an impact player at the position. The Sox might elect to add a veteran glove as insurance, perhaps as a nonroster invitee.

Potential free agent/trade targets: Not applicable. The Sox are not looking for an upgrade here.

Prospects in the system: Deven Marrero was named the organization’s best defensive player, but the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft needs to show improvement at the plate before he can be regarded as a top prospect. He’ll begin the season in Pawtucket but could gain his first big-league exposure in 2015.

Scout’s take: There still are questions about Bogaerts’ defense and reliability at shortstop, which might be just a case of growing pains. He has had strong flashes of success, especially offensively, at such a young age and at a premium position. To me, he still has strong value.

People might say Holt will never have more trade value than he has now, but if I’m the Red Sox, I keep him. He offers an answer at so many positions, and that versatility means a lot on a winning team.