A Third Baseman who Devers more Recognition

Photo: lavidabaseball.com

Heading into Memorial Day weekend, the Boston Red Sox sit at twenty-five wins and twenty-three losses, trailing the first place New York Yankees by 5.5 games and the second place Tampa Rays by 3.5 games. After opening the season with an abysmal 3-9 record, the Red Sox have gone 22-13 since April 11th and are clearly trending in the right direction…

3/28/19 – 4/9/19

  • G: 12
  • RS: 51 (4.25 RS/9)
  • RA: 72 (6 RA/9)
  • RD: -21

4/11/19 – 5/21/19

  • G: 35
  • RS: 202 (5.77 RS/9)
  • RA: 156 (4.46 RA/9)
  • RD: +46

One key contributor for the Red Sox this season has been twenty-two year old third baseman Rafael Devers. After a very impressive showing in his rookie campaign (.284 AVG, .338 OBP, and 10 HR [24 PA/HR] in 240 PA), Devers struggled mightily in his sophomore season. He hit to the tune of a .240 batting average and put up a sub-.300 on-base percentage. At least his power output in 2018 remained steady (21 HR in 490 PA; 23.3 PA/HR). Fortunately for Boston, Rafael Devers has bounced back big-time this season. His robust batting slash reads .320/.390/.472, and he is striking out less frequently…

  • 2017 K%: 23.8
  • 2018 K%: 24.7 (+0.9)
  • 2019 K%: 14.9 (-9.8)

with the most likely reason being that he is whiffing less at pitches outside of the strike zone…

  • 2017 O-Contact% (per FanGraphs): 63.8
  • 2018 O-Contact%: 63.6 (-0.2)
  • 2019 O-Contact%: 70.3 (+9.7)

Devers has presumably changed his approach in 2019. He’s no longer trying to hit a home run on every pitch he sees. Take a look at the pictures (both ended in HR!) below and you’ll see what I’m saying…

2018 Follow-Through (Baseball Savant)
2019 Follow-Through (Baseball Savant)

His swing is a lot more short to the baseball, and he has substantially toned down his follow through. This serves an explanation as to why Devers’ power numbers are down by quite a bit this season; through 48 games (201 PA), Devers has just 5 big flies (40.2 PA/HR). Unsurprisingly, his fly ball percentage is down 11.8% from last year (38.6% –> 26.8% according to FanGraphs), and his line drive rate is up by 10.3% (15.2% –> 25.5%).

An uptick in line drives has led to more doubles. Currently, he’s tied for twelfth in the majors with twelve two-baggers. Devers is well on pace to top his doubles total from 2018 (24)…

  • 2017 PA/2B: 22.2
  • 2018 PA/2B: 18.75
  • 2019 PA/2B: 16.75

With his new approach, Devers has been able to hit the ball harder on a more regular basis. His Hard% (according to Baseball Savant) is up by around 25% (41.7% –> 51.7%) and his xBA (also per Baseball Savant) is .314, much better than the one he had in 2018 (.239). His average exit velocity is up by two miles per hour (90.7 –> 92.7). His lowered launch angle is also further evidence that supports the fact that Devers is making a concerted effort to hit more line drives…

  • 2017 LA (Baseball Savant): 7.7
  • 2018 LA: 10.9 (+3.2)
  • 2019 LA: 7.4 (-3.5)
2017 (left) 2018 (center) 2019 (right)

Source: Baseball Savant

It’s worth noting that Devers is running a career-high .361 BABIP, which indicates that there’s a chance he could be benefiting from some batted ball luck…

  • 2017 BABIP (.342)
  • 2018 BABIP (.281)
  • 2019 BABIP (.361)

To determine what Devers’ batting average might resemble the rest of the way out, we’ll calculate a weighted average of his career BABIP…

  • Formula: (2017 BABIP * 0.25) + (2018 BABIP * 0.35) + (2019 BABIP * 0.4)
  • Result: .328

If Rafael Devers were to have a .328 BABIP during the 2019 season so far, his AVG would have been .275.

In my opinion, Devers still has plenty of room for improvement. Personally, I’d feel he would be better off utilizing an approach in which he swings big (relatively speaking) early on in the count (more of an upper cut stroke) but reverts back to the swing he’s been using in the beginning of this year when he’s down or even in the count (an approach more conducive to generating line drives and putting the ball in play in general). For a player who possesses as much raw power as Devers has (average HR distance: 413 ft. per Baseball Savant), you’d like to see the player limit the number of ground balls put in play…

  • 2017 GB%: 49.1
  • 2018 GB%: 46.2 (-2.9)
  • 2019 GB%: 47.7 (+1.5)

I can say one thing for certain: if the Red Sox are to make it to the postseason, Rafael Devers will be a big reason why.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s