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Padres’ Xander Bogaerts playing strong defense at shortstop

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This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The Padres needed Xander Bogaerts to be rock-solid at shortstop this season.

And not because they didn’t have shortstop defense elsewhere on their roster. Quite the opposite. They had too much of it.

Ha-Seong Kim remains an elite shortstop playing second base. Stick Fernando Tatis Jr. back at short, and he’s still capable of the spectacular.

Now, imagine the questions that would’ve been raised had Bogaerts arrived in San Diego and struggled defensively (as he did for much of his early tenure in Boston).

Instead, through 2 1/2 months, Bogaerts’ glove has done the talking. He’s made seemingly every routine play, while also showcasing a bit of range. Entering play Thursday, Bogaerts ranked fourth among all shortstops in Statcast’s Outs Above Average. He hasn’t committed an error since April and has been particularly strong coming in on the baseball.

“Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses,” manager Bob Melvin said. “What he does is he does everything on the run really well and throws from different arm angles. That’s just kind of been who he is his whole career. He attacks the baseball and does a lot of stuff on the move, which you don’t see a ton of in the game.”

Shortstops don’t typically get better with age. Bogaerts appears to be an exception — in large part because he’s embraced those strengths.

A poor defensive shortstop by most metrics during his early years with the Red Sox, Bogaerts overhauled his approach to the position two summers ago.

“I feel comfortable coming in, because I know the hops I can get from the drills that I do,” Bogaerts said. “If I get a bad hop, I still feel like with the right mechanics and the right habits that you create, I can still get it.”

Bogaerts’ method is not the what you’d teach in Little League. He rarely sets himself before fielding, preferring to charge the ball and pick it. He also rarely sets himself before throwing, preferring instead to pick and throw in the same motion. His release is quick. Per OAA, only Wander Franco has been better at short on balls “in” this year.

There are risks to having so many moving parts. But two summers ago, Bogaerts didn’t like what the metrics told him about his defense. So he started taking those risks. Turns out, given his skill set, they weren’t really risks at all. He honed his pre-pitch, so he was more upright and agile at contact — more able to charge. From there, he worked intently on picking those short- and medium-hops on the run, rather than letting the ball play him.

The moving parts all started to fit. Midseason in 2021, his defensive runs saved sat at -13. It finished at -5.

“Which actually means that I was plus-8, but no one was seeing that, because they just see the final number,” Bogaerts said. “So going into last year, I was like, ‘Damn, I’m very excited to see if this is for real.'”

It was for real. And the Padres whole-heartedly believed it — which is why they’re paying him to play shortstop on a team full of shortstops. The strategy has paid off. The Padres’ five-shortstop lineup is thriving. Kim has been perhaps the sport’s best defensive second baseman, worth seven OAA himself. Jake Cronenworth and Manny Macahdo are two of the best corner defenders in the sport. And Tatis has been brilliant in right field.

By any measure, the Padres have been one of the best defensive units in baseball this season, and Bogaerts’ transformation has been integral to that.

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