Short Thoughts: Bogaerts vs. Lindor
By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com
The offseason is a great time for conversation and debate (as if we never find time during the season). This year, like every other, there are a number of fascinating discussions across the prospect landscape, but one especially fascinating one is the battle for best shortstop.
It’s a clear two-horse race between Boston’s Xander Bogaerts and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor. Bogaerts, of course, entered the offseason as something more than your average elite prospect — he’ll still maintain his rookie eligibility heading into 2014 with just 50 regular-season at-bats on his resume, but his .893 postseason OPS offers more proof of his readiness.
Lindor, meanwhile, has yet to reach the Majors. Bogaerts’ junior by roughly 13 months, the 20-year-old this season got to Double-A, where he posted a .407 on-base percentage and an .801 OPS in 21 games.
What’s so fascinating about the Bogaerts/Lindor debate is how both players figure to become stars, despite decidedly different skill sets. Bogaerts is reminiscent, at least through fuzzy goggles, to another one-time Red Sox prospect: Hanley Ramirez. At this point, there’s little doubt Bogaerts will hit. He posted an .822 OPS in 60 games with Triple-A Pawtucket before a late-season callup. The talents are there and the track record supports it — Bogaerts looks like a middle-of-the-order threat.
Like Ramirez as a youngster (and especially with age), Bogaerts’ defense is less of a certainty, especially in comparison to Lindor. The Aruba native has the tools to make it work at shortshop, with a very strong arm and athleticism that, per MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, exceeds what you might expect from his sturdy 6-foot-3 frame. Bogaerts could be an average defender for a long time (and average, in this case, shouldn’t be taken as a knock).
There are some who have suggested he should move to third base with age, while others are more bullish about his prospects at short. This Minor League writer tends to think Bogaerts is likely to be an average MLB shortstop for a while, so humor me, if you will, in reading the rest of this story with that thought in mind.
Lindor is a different specimen. There’s no doubting the eighth overall pick from the 2011 Draft has leather worthy of the middle of the diamond. The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder possesses the arm, the athleticism, the instincts and the polish to be a well above-average defender at short, with many projecting elite-level defense. Indeed, when he offered his projections prior to 2013, Mayo labeled Lindor to be a grade-8 defender, the highest mark a scout can place on a player’s tools.
But where Lindor outshines Bogaerts with the leather, there’s more skepticism about his offensive potential, at least by comparison. Make no mistake, Lindor looks like he’ll hit at the Major League level, but where Bogaerts looks like a middle-of-the-order threat, Lindor profiles as more of a leadoff or two-spot guy, providing plenty of average and on-base ability but less power and, thus, less overall production.
So which is better — a slugger at short merely average with the glove or a whiz with the mitt whose bat is just good enough to warrant a lineup spot? More specifically, if Bogaerts is an average defender at short, how much does he need to outhit Lindor to be the more valuable contributor?
For the sake of this experiment, at least to start, I’m going to begin with one big assumption, that being Lindor’s career line ends up something similar to what he posted in 83 Class A Advanced games this season — a .306/.373/.410 triple-slash. That, obviously, reflects a very good player, especially at shortstop, but isn’t necessarily a superstar’s line if he isn’t a shortstop.
For ease, I’m going to use weighted runs created (wRC+) to help translate offensive production to Wins Above Replacement. For those unfamiliar, Fangraphs has plenty more on the stat (that’s where I’m getting these numbers), but here’s a quick and dirty primer:
What wRC+ tries to do is encapsulate all of a player’s offensive contributions and compare it to the league average. An average hitter would boast a wRC+ of 100, and each point one way or the other represents a 1 percent edge or deficit against an average player.
So, for instance, Lindor’s 2013 Class A Advanced numbers translate to a 121 wRC+, meaning he was 21 percent better offensively than the average Carolina League player.
The reason I went with wRC+ is because it’s easy enough to translate into WAR. For reference, MLB players who posted 121 wRC+ in 2013 include Starling Marte and Jed Lowrie, and I’m calculating these totals based on 2013 league averages.
Here’s what an average season might look like for Lindor if he posted a 121 wRC+ with elite shortstop defense — in this case, posting 15 defensive runs, which would’ve ranked second behind Andrelton Simmons’ absurd 23.9 runs saved in 2013, according to UZR:
*Quick note: for the sake of ease, I’m not taking baserunning into account, but for what it’s worth, Lindor is likely to be a slightly better duck on the pond than Bogaerts, while both players would probably add value with their feet.
A six-plus win season, obviously, is quite good — Fangraphs calculated only 13 Major Leaguers were six-win players in 2013 — and this is in many ways a best-case projection for Lindor. If he can reproduce those offensive numbers and becomes an elite defender at short, he’s going to be a regular All-Star and fringe MVP candidate.
So how much would Bogaerts need to hit as an average defender at short to outproduce Lindor, assuming he reaches that ceiling? Let’s take a look:
I began at 100 wRC+ (league average offensive production) and simply counted up by 10-point increments. As you can see, Bogaerts with a 140 wRC+ and average defense at short would be worth 6.7 WAR, just eclipsing Lindor’s worth. For reference, MLB players in 2013 who posted wRC+ in that range include Troy Tulowitzki (143), Robinson Cano (142) and Michael Cuddyer (140). Those fellas, obviously, can really hit, and did so in 2013.
So Bogaerts needs to hit roughly 20 percent better than Lindor to outproduce him if Lindor can reproduce his Class A Advanced numbers, or, as is shown below, regardless of what he produces. The next table includes projected WAR totals for Lindor at varying wRC+ tallies, and in the final column, lists the wRC+ that would be required by Bogaerts to match him.
As you can see, the offensive threshold Bogaerts needs to eclipse is always between 18 and 19 percent better than Lindor to match his overall contributions, at least if you buy my defensive baselines and ignore baserunning. Obviously, those are things that can be adjusted based on how you personally project those guys.
I hope, if nothing else, this proved an interesting way to think about these two players and how they compare. Of course, it’s no sure thing that Bogaerts settles in as an average defender, nor that Lindor becomes an elite one at short. Hopefully, though, these thoughts clarify the parameters of the discussion.