2021 Projection: Will The Real Rafael Devers Please Raise Their Hand…

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When we talk about plate discipline we generally focus on SwStr% and O-Swing%, but looking at a players’ Swing% (the percentage of pitches a batters swings at) is just as important. It is a sign of their aggressiveness, and being too aggressive could work at a disadvantage. When it comes to Rafael Devers, while he’s always been extremely aggressive (career 53.4% Swing%) in the shortened 2020 it worked a bit against him:

.263, 11 HR, 43 RBI, 32 R, 0 SB

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .311, and his power was the only thing that salvaged his season. With a 93.0 Exit Velocity he tied for 10th in the league, and his 19.3% HR/FB and 41.2% Hard% further help to support his pace. Throw in an average home run distance of 414 feet and you would think that everything was pointing in the right direction.

However we have to circle back to his approach, as he clearly is going to consistently have questions hovering over him:

  • Swing% – 54.6%
  • SwStr% – 16.1%
  • O-Swing% – 42.3%

Obviously it was a relatively small sample size, but his Swing% tied him for the sixth highest mark among qualified hitters. We’d love to point towards a change in approach from opposing pitchers, but that simply wasn’t the case:

  • Hard – 60.41%
  • Breaking – 25.41%
  • Offspeed – 14.18%

In fact he saw the most fastballs in his career in 2020. Considering he’s always missed a lot against hard pitches, but saw his Whiff% balloon further to 18.41% (he was at 13.09% in ’19), there obviously is going to be a lot of concern. While he posted a 17.0% strikeout rate in ’19, his 27.0% mark last season is likely closer to the truth.

Everything comes together for the following projection for 2021:

.272 (163-600), 35 HR, 105 RBI, 95 R, 6 SB, .319 BABIP, .317 OBP, .522 SLG

The moral of the story? He was never going to match his 2019 success, and there’s a good chance 2020 is closer to the “real” Devers. There’s obviously nothing wrong with that, but he also may never quite be elite. Keep that in mind as you value him for 2021 and beyond.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball

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