Red Sox

Is ‘underrated’ Red Sox star Xander Bogaerts building quiet Hall-of-Fame case?

Xander Bogaerts Red Sox
Xander Bogaerts waits to hit during a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins. Michael Reaves/Getty Images

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Given how poorly the Boston Red Sox played in 2020, it’s probably not surprising that fans won’t find many Red Sox on ESPN’s latest list of baseball’s top 100 players.

In fact, you’ll only find three: outfielder Alex Verdugo (No. 93), third baseman Rafael Devers (47), and shortstop Xander Bogaerts (42).

But something about Bogaerts’s position on the list feels especially noteworthy; the longtime Boston mainstay sits behind eight other shortstops, including the likes of 2019 A.L. batting champion Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox and Toronto’s Bo Bichette.

That comes after a year in which Bogaerts was excellent again for a down Boston team, posting a 300/.364/.502 slash line with 11 home runs in 56 games and compiling the fifth-best wins-above-replacement (WAR) value among shortstops (1.9) according to FanGraphs. If you look back over the last three seasons, you’ll notice Bogaerts has accumulated the most WAR (13.6) of any shortstop in baseball not named Francisco Lindor. 

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“He’s almost forgotten because there are so many terrific young shortstops in baseball at this moment,” Dan Szymborski, senior baseball writer for FanGraphs, told Boston.com earlier this month. “He’s not off his peak yet. It’s weird that a Red Sox star shortstop would be underrated, but you can make the case he is.

Szymborski even wrote in his offseason ZiPS projections for the 2021 Red Sox that the man he says might be “the most underrated shortstop in baseball” could even be building a case for Cooperstown without anyone realizing it: 

“Bogaerts is slowly building his Hall of Fame case and still projects as a .277/.343/.474 hitter in 2026. 2,500 hits and over 350 homers, as ZiPS is currently projecting, ought to be enough to get him to Cooperstown.”

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Xander Bogaerts, future Hall-of-Famer?

Putting the initial eyebrow raises aside for a moment, let’s consider this possibility: what if the still-young shortstop actually reached the kinds of numbers FanGraphs is projecting?

Assuming the pandemic, injuries, or other disasters don’t steal any more full seasons of Bogaerts’s prime from him, a 2,500 hit-350 home run combination, along with what should be some impressive RBI numbers for a shortstop, would almost assuredly earn him Hall-of-Fame honors at some point.

Only three shortstops (Alex Rodriguez, Ernie Banks, Cal Ripken Jr.) have ever recorded more than 350 home runs. Only Rodriguez isn’t currently in the Hall; he officially debuts on the ballot next year. Similarly, only two of the 11 shortstops to rack up more than 2,500 hits (Rodriguez and Omar Vizquel) aren’t in Cooperstown. So the odds are strong those numbers would make Bogaerts a lock.

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Still, getting there will require a lot more work. As might be expected, his career numbers to this point place him well outside the threshold for a Hall-of-Fame player. Not everyone can be Mike Trout, who is already one of the greatest center fielders of all time and could be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer if he retired tomorrow.

Baseball Reference’s player similarity scores for Bogaerts through his age-27 season suggest Szymborski’s prediction might hold some weight but also contains some caveats.

Though Bogaerts projects most closely right now to former Red Sox shortstop Vern Stephens, an eight-time All-Star who has never appeared on a Hall-of-Fame ballot, his list of comparable players also includes Boston Hall-of-Famers Bobby Doerr and Joe Cronin along with Travis Jackson. It’s worth noting, though, that none of them played in today’s more home run-friendly era, which likely would change the way Bogaerts is thought of offensively.

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However, Bogaerts also has a strong overall similarity score as a hitter to Lindor, who remains one of the best shortstops of today’s game and will very likely make the Hall one day if he continues his level of play.

Throw in the current Red Sox shortstop’s World Series championship pedigree, and it’s quite possible the Cooperstown committee may look kindly on him when his career is finished.

With luck, Bogaerts has a lot of baseball before him, starting with what hopes to be a complete 2021 season in which he can build on last year’s strong campaign. If he finishes this year at or better than the 2021 ZiPS projected slash of .288/.357/.860 to go with 27 home runs and 94 RBI, it’ll be a good start to making this dream scenario a reality and serve as another bright spot for the Red Sox in what could be an uncertain season.

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