Opinion

Rafael Devers is Heating Up

After a rough slump, Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers is in the midst of a hot streak. What changes did Devers make to launch this recent success?
Feaured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (June 10, 2018 – Source: Greg Fiume/Getty Images North America)

Patience is a virtue, and right now the Red Sox are reaping the rewards for patiently sticking with 21-year old third baseman Rafael Devers. After a long slump which saw his numbers plummet across the board, the young third baseman is finally waking up. Devers has the potential to be one of the best bats on the team, and if he can continue to overcome his early struggles, the Red Sox offense could be the best lineup in baseball.

Rafael Devers is Waking Up

As of June 5th, Devers’ numbers looked pretty ugly across the board. Devers was hitting just .233 to go along with a .279 OBP and a .395 slugging percentage and a wRC+ of 75. He struggled with pitch selection, oftentimes chasing bad pitches and rarely drawing walks.

However, things have improved for the lefty over the last few weeks. In an admittedly small sample of 36 plate appearances, Devers is hitting .314/.514/.848 slash line to go along with a 128 wRC+. Not only is he getting hits, but he’s hitting for power. During this timeframe, Devers has doubled four times and launched a home run.

Obviously, this is great news. As is common with most second-year players, Devers was in the midst of a rough slump as the league learned the best ways to attack him. This is especially true for younger players, and, at age 21, Devers is one of the youngest players in the major leagues.

All great players adjust to how major league pitchers attack them at some point, and on the surface, Devers appears to be making said adjustment. However, in what ways is Devers adjusting? Is he being a smarter hitter, or is the game just slowing down for him? To answer that question, let’s dive into the underlying peripherals behind Devers hot streak.

How Is Devers Doing This?

The biggest knack against Rafael Devers was his poor pitch selection. Devers swung at just about everything, and pitchers knew they didn’t have to attack the zone to get him out. Prior to the beginning of Devers hit streak, the young lefty struck out 27.1% of the time while swinging at 37.2% of pitches outside of the zone.

His poor plate discipline was the biggest reason for his troubles, so conventional wisdom suggests that his hit streak was due to an improvement in pitch selection. Conventional wisdom would be wrong. During his hit streak, Devers is still striking out 25% of the time, while swinging at 36.7% of pitches outside of the zone.

Essentially, he’s approaching the plate with the exact same strategy he has all season. So if he’s not being smarter at the plate, then why are his numbers so much better? The answer to that lies in the type of contact he’s making.

Air Ball

Put simply, the game is starting to slow down for Devers. Despite no notable changes to his swing rate, the type of contact he’s making shows that he’s beginning to figure out major league pitching. He’s seeing the ball better and making more effective contact. Naturally, this leads to better results.

Prior to his hit streak, Devers was hitting ground balls 45.5% of the time, fly balls 39.7% of the time, and line drives just 14.7% of the time. Generally speaking, hitters never want to hit ground balls, and that’s especially true in the case of Devers.

Devers has incredible power potential, and driving the ball into the ground is not the way to success. While data shows ground balls are the least effective type of contact, they can serve a purpose to a certain type of player. If a player lacks power but boasts great speed, then ground balls aren’t the worst thing in the world.

Devers is the exact opposite of that. He’s not a speed demon by any means, and he has 30+ home run potential. He should be trying to put the ball in the air as much as possible, and during his recent hitting streak, he has.

Since June 6th, Devers has decreased his groundball percentage to 38.5%, while increasing his fly ball and line drive percentage to 42.3% and 19.2%, respectively. This type of hit percentage is much more in line with what makes a player like Devers successful at the major league level.

Unfiltered Analysis of Rafael Devers

Rafael Devers has begun to turn his season around, and there’s not much reason to suspect it’s a fluke. He’s putting the ball in the air more than ever, which fits his skill set perfectly. He’s seeing the ball better, which implies that he’s adjusting to major league pitching.

The scary thing is that Devers can get even better. Despite the improvement in contact, he still lacks major league plate discipline. He’s still just 21 years old, so there’s no reason to think that he won’t eventually learn to lay off bad pitches. He struck out just 17.6% of the time in his minor league career, so there’s reason to believe his strikeout problem will disappear to an extent.

The sky truly is the limit for this kid. The fact that he’s contributing to the majors at just age 21 speaks volumes about his potential. However, the fact that he’s already adapting to the major league adjustments shows just how far along he is in his development. If he can continue to put the ball in the air and start to stop swinging at bad pitches, he’ll become one of the best hitters in all of baseball.

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