Should Rafael Devers Be Written Off Or Can He Rebound From A Disappointing 2018?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Many had high hopes for the Red Sox’ Rafael Devers in his first full season in the Majors.  That said he ultimately disappointed, and it really shouldn’t have come as a big surprise.  Before we get into why he failed to live up to expectations, let’s take a look at the actual numbers:

450 At Bats
.240 Batting Average (108 Hits)
21 Home Runs
66 RBI
59 Runs
5 Stolen Bases
.298 On Base Percentage
.433 Slugging Percentage
.281 Batting Average on Balls in Play

Prior to last season we had Devers ranked 19th among third baseman.  At the time we wrote the following, most of which came to fruition:

The Red Sox appeared determined to leave Devers in the minors, but ultimately he forced their hand and delivered upon reaching Boston (.284, 10 HR, 30 RBI and 34 R over 222 AB).  You can argue a little bit of luck, with a .342 BABIP despite a 15.3% line drive rate, and that’s fair.  You also have to wonder if the strikeout rate (23.8%) will rise considering his 12.4% SwStr%.  Interestingly his worst Whiff% came against offspeed pitches, but was still a modest 16.67%, though a 10.9% SwStr% in the minors supports the elevated mark.  His power does appear to be growing, which would help to offset the increased strikeout rate, but any step backward in his 17.2% HR/FB could result in poor results.  This isn’t to say that he won’t have value, but  a sophomore slump isn’t unthinkable either (plus he could sit against tough southpaws).

Let’s take a look at the key numbers from that writeup:

BABIP
As expected the number came crashing back down to earth as he continued to post a subpar line drive rate (15.2%) and Hard% (34.4%).  For a player with limited speed it’s going to take a lot better marks to maintain a solid BABIP, especially considering his 46.2% groundball rate and 15.7% popup rate.  Maybe there’s a little bit of room for improvement, but he was never going to replicate his 2017 mark and it’s not likely he gets back there right now.

 

Strikeouts
The actual strikeout rate didn’t regress very much, going from 23.8% to 24.7%, but he continued to show a poor approach.  His SwStr% rose to 13.1% and his O-Swing% jumped to 37.3%, both indicating that there’s even more room for regression.  He continued to not have gaudy Whiff% against any one type of pitch, though he was unimpressive against any type of pitch:

  • Hard – 13.94%
  • Breaking – 14.35%
  • Offspeed – 15.60%

In other words there’s no reason to expect a significant improvement coming.

 

Power
It wasn’t a big regression, but his HR/FB did fall slightly to 16.5%.  That likely had an impact on his average, though it’s negligible and he does appear to be a 25+ HR threat.

 

Conclusion
It’s not that Devers was “good” against right-handed pitchers, though there was a split in his slash line:

  • RHP – .244/.307/.464
  • LHP – .229/.272/.347

That makes him seem like a platoon player, and one that’s going to struggle in his average regardless.  Maybe it was just a sophomore slump, but there’s no guarantee that he takes a significant step forward.  He needs to make a lot of adjustments, and it’s impossible to expect him to make them all in one fell swoop.  He should get there in time, but for now he should be viewed more as a corner infielder as opposed to a starting third baseman.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

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Make sure to check out all of our 2019 projections:

Player
Date Posted
Dylan Bundy10/22/18
Foltynewicz, Mike10/09/18
Gibson, Kyle10/29/18
Hoskins, Rhys10/16/18
Hosmer, Eric11/05/18
Wheeler, Zack10/02/18

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