Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (June 29, 2018 – Source: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)
“Some players are born to be Yankees, you know what I’m saying? I was born to play against the Yankees”. Those words were spoken by Red Sox legend David Ortiz prior to his final series in the Bronx. The longtime designated hitter was a legend for many reasons, one of which being his historical success against the longtime rival New York Yankees. With Ortiz retired, somebody needed to step up and be the new Yankee killer. Fortunately for the Red Sox, Rafael Devers has answered the call.
Before we begin, let’s get a few things out of the way. Will Rafael Devers be as great a player as Ortiz? Highly unlikely. Ortiz is the second greatest Red Sox in history (Ted Williams still owns the top spot) and was arguably the most important player on three separate World Series teams. He was a once in a lifetime player, and Devers probably won’t match those heroics.
However, just because Devers won’t be Ortiz doesn’t mean that he can’t play a huge role in the next installment of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. To the contrary, he already has. In a small sample size, Devers has already given us multiple big performances against New York. While this has come in a small sample size, there’s no reason to believe this run of success will end any time soon.
Rafael Devers: The New Yankee Killer
Part of the reason for the Devers hype is based on what he’s already accomplished. The 21-year old has been in the majors for just over one year, yet he’s already provided two historic moments against the Yankees.
Devers provided the signature moment of 2017 against Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman. Due to some terrible third base play by Pablo Sandoval, Deven Marrero, and Brock Holt, the Red Sox decided to promote their 20-year old top prospect to the majors. In just his third week on the team, Devers found himself facing one of the best closers in the league with the Sox trailing 2-1.
It was a lefty on lefty matchup against an elite closer and a 20-year old. Devers had no right to make contact, much less put a ball in play. Nonetheless, Devers took Chapman to the opposite field, blasting a dinger over the fence and tying the game, 2-2. The home run was historic for several reasons, and the Sox went on to win, 3-2.
Just last Saturday, he did it again. In five at-bats, Devers had three singles, a double, and a first-inning grand slam. With the performance, he became the youngest player in franchise history to go 5-5. He’s proving to be a special player, especially against New York pitching.
These aren’t two isolated instances, either. In 18 games against the Yankees, Devers is posting a .275/.311/.478 slash line with four home runs. In games played at Yankee Stadium, Devers slash line jumps up to .326/.354/.500 with a 132 wRC+.
These Results Are Here to Stay
While this success comes in a small sample size, there are plenty of reasons to believe these results are here to stay. For one, he’s still just 21. He’s one of the youngest players in the league, and he should continue to get better as his career goes on.
Secondly, his hit tool is a perfect fit for both Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. Devers is incredibly gifted at utilizing every inch of the field, as illustrated by the spray chart below.
The chart above (courtesy of Fangraphs) shows every batted ball of Devers 2018 season. As you can see, Devers sends the ball all over the field and can hit everywhere with power. This is evident by his career pull rate of just 37.1% and his 2018 fly ball rate of 39.9%. These numbers are great for a power hitter like Devers, and they should only improve as his career goes on.
The aforementioned numbers are made even better by the parks in which he plays. Both Fenway and Yankee Stadium have dimensions that play favorably to a hitter like Devers. In Fenway Park, Devers has the Green Monster and Pesky’s Pole as his allies. Both are notoriously close to home plate, and both have a long history of turning routine fly balls into home runs and doubles.
While Fenway is friendly to Devers, Yankee Stadium is a wet dream. Yankee Stadium is probably the most hitter-friendly ballpark in all of baseball, especially for batters who can send the ball all over the field. The left field wall only 318 feet from home plate, and right field only 314. Left center is 399, and Right center is 385. Center field, the furthest point from home plate, is just 408’ from home plate.
For someone with Devers power, these fences are nothing. The young lefty has shown true power both in the minors and during his major league tenure. Even when he doesn’t get all of a pitch, he has the natural strength to easily send a ball over the fences. As long as he puts the ball in the air, he should be able to keep racking up home runs in Yankee Stadium at the same pace.
Unfiltered Thoughts on Rafael Devers
The Red Sox should thank their lucky stars that Rafael Devers is theirs for the foreseeable future. Devers already has extensive success against the Yankees, and his hit tool implies that the success will last a while. The Red Sox and Yankees have the two best records in baseball, and the division race should come down to the final week of the season. Every single game matters and Devers could be the difference between taking home the division title and having to play in the wild-card game.