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Tony Massarotti

Red Sox' Defensive Plan for Bogaerts is a Long Journey

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If you’re actually calling for Stephen Drew today, go right ahead. Knock yourself out. Scream from the top of your lungs.

But if the Red Sox actually listen to you, shame on them.

Xander Bogaerts’ defense is an issue, folks. He’s nowhere near as good as Drew right now and, quite frankly, he’s probably below average. We base that not on what Bogaerts could be but rather on what he is, a large, generally graceful and mature young man who sometimes doesn’t look quite right playing a position typically suited for gnats, fireflies and water bugs.

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Last night? There was simply no way to defend the one-hop throw Bogaerts made to first base, whether Mike Carp (in as a replacement for the injured Mike Napoli) could have or should have handled the throw. It doesn’t matter. In the big leagues, plays simply do not get more routine than the one Bogaerts botched last night, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game.

E-6. End of story. And everyone knows it.

The good news? Bogaerts continues to demonstrate the accountability and level-headedness that will (should?) someday make him a star.

“There’s no excuse for that play. It’s a ball I should have thrown right in the chest to him,” Bogaerts admitted to reporters after the game. “You can use it in two ways: I can be down and keep going down from there or I can use it as a turning point - something to move on from and turn the season around.”

There are two real storylines line. The first is that Bogaerts’ defense thus far has been worse than many of us thought it would, the Red Sox maybe included. The second is that anyone who didn’t see this coming was downright blind and is probably prone to overreaction, which negates any panic-induced reaction they have today.

That said, Bogaerts’ defensive problems so far are quite real. Against Milwaukee on the weekend of the home opener, Bogaerts made just one official error, but failed to make three plays in the series that Drew likely would have made. Last night, prior to his decisive error, Bogaerts also induced a replay when he ranged to his left and threw back to his right, nearly pulling Napoli off the bag.

Bogaerts got the out. But a good major league shortstop makes that play without quite as much difficulty. It just didn’t look quite right.

Is any of this a reason to move Bogaerts from his position? Hell no. Entering this season – and perhaps, beyond – this was always part of the deal with him at shortstop. Sox officials have been calling Bogaerts “unorthodox” for quite a while now, which is to say they don’t know if he can handle the position at the big league level – now or in the future. Given that there is really only one way to find the answer – by playing him – the Sox rightfully committed to Bogaerts as their shortstop at the start of this season, leaving Drew and agent Scott Boras to at least temporarily twist in the wind after rejecting the club’s $14.1 million qualifying offer. (OK, I admit I have enjoyed this side benefit.)

For what it’s worth, according to places like fangraphs.com, Drew last season ranked among the top 10 defensive shortstops in the game. This year, albeit in a very small sample, Bogaerts currently ranks closer to the bottom third. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are off to a 5-9 start, which might already have some folks wondering whether a team has ever gone from worst to first to worst again.

OK, so that was snarky.

But if we’re all going to give the Red Sox a chance to get their collective act together, let’s afford the same luxury to their uniquely gifted shortstop, whether he ends up there in the future or not.