Could A Sophomore Slump Be In Rafael Devers Future? Don’t Be Surprised If He Disappoints In 2018

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Rafael Devers took one of the biggest leaps in value in ’17, forcing the Red Sox hand and emerging as the team’s starting third baseman after hitting .311 with 20 HR and 60 RBI over 358 PA between Double-A (320 PA) and Triple-A (38 PA).  That success carried over into the Majors, as he entrenched himself as the long-term solution in Boston:

222 At Bats
.284 Batting Average (63 Hits)
10 Home Runs
30 RBI
34 Runs
3 Stolen Bases
.338 On Base Percentage
.482 Slugging Percentage
.342 Batting Average on Balls in Play

Needless to say the hype machine is now in full force, but does the early MLB success mean he’s a lock to continue that production in 2018?  Or, could a sophomore slump be in his future?  Let’s dive in and take a look:

 

Average
There are two separate concerns that need to be addressed:

  1. Strikeouts
  2. Luck

His strikeout rate in the Majors was 23.8%, which isn’t an unreasonable mark, though a 12.4% SwStr% and 36.1% O-Swing% tells a little bit of a different story.  His 10.7% SwStr% at Double-A offers another warning sign, as does his Whiff% across the board:

  • Hard – 12.77%
  • Breaking Ball – 12.95%
  • Offspeed – 16.67%

Nothing stands out as terrible, but none are particularly “good” either and pitchers at the highest level could take advantage of his youth and aggressiveness.  A rise in strikeouts will obviously have a negative impact on his average, especially when we look at the luck metrics:

  • BABIP – .342
  • Line Drive Rate – 15.3%

The line drive rate wasn’t an issue coming up in the minors, including a 21.6% mark at Double-A last season.  Still, we know opposing MLB pitchers will make an adjustment so if he can’t adjust the number will remain suppressed (and with it, the average will likely fall as he can’t maintain the BABIP).

It’s not to say that Devers is going to hit .220, but he also isn’t likely going to be a .280-.300 hitter.

 

Power
Devers was showing growth in the power department last season, as he totaled 34 doubles, 2 triples and 30 HR across all of the levels he played.  That helps to offset the average concerns, and his 17.2% HR/FB in the Majors isn’t unreasonable (even though it doubled what he had been doing previously).  Maybe it’s not a guarantee that he maintains it and it’s possible that he’s more of an 18-23 HR this season, as opposed to the 30 HR threat he could ultimately become.

The key is how quickly he will be able to adjust.  If there’s a slow development you are going to be paying for 2019 and beyond in 2018, and that’s never a great decision (obviously it’s a different story if you are in a dynasty league).

 

Conclusion
This isn’t to say that Devers is going to be a bust in ’18, but we also shouldn’t get caught up in the hype and make the mistake of overvaluing him for this year (in a bubble).  While the real risk is in his average, the power isn’t a guarantee to grow (yet).  There’s reason to believe, but fantasy owners need to go into their drafts with their eyes open.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

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Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Preseason Rankings:

Position
Standard League
OBP League
Catchers03/14/1802/02/18
First Basemen01/08/1802/09/18
Second Basemen01/15/1802/13/18
Shortstops03/21/1802/27/18
Third Basemen03/09/1803/06/18
Outfielders1-20: 03/18/18

21-40: 03/19/18
1-20: 03/12/18

21-40:
Starting Pitchers1-20: 03/24/18

21-40: 03/24/18
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Relief Pitchers02/12/18--

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