Red Sox need to hide Rafael Devers defensive shortcomings

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 12: Rafael Devers
CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 12: Rafael Devers /

The Boston Red Sox have a defensive weakness that can be exploited in the playoffs and certainly in the 2018 season.  Rafael Devers is a great hitter, but a defensive liability.

Since this is baseball we can occasionally get “Blinded by the light” and the light is one specific ability that is so damn good that we ignore other parts of a player’s game. A willingness to gloss over, minimize and generally ignore a flaw.

Defensively the good news for Rafael Devers is he does not lead the American League third basemen in errors – Devers has 13, but leader Nick Castellanos has 18. There is, however, some bad news as Castellanos has 1,086.1 innings at third and Devers 439.2. On the magical UZR/150, Devers is -9.8, so it has been fairly clear from an observational and statistical perspective that Devers has some fielding deficiencies. For comparison Pablo Sandoval managed a -13.6 UZR/150. Devers defense has short and long term implications – especially with playoff baseball looming.

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Following the evidence chain of Devers career, this is not exactly a surprise like discovering you have won the Publishers Clearing House prize Du Jour. Just this season between Portland (526.2 innings) and Pawtucket (72 innings) Devers accumulated 16 errors. As a third baseman, Devers will make a great designated hitter or potential first baseman.

Devers works at his craft and reportedly spends considerable time investing on the defensive side of baseball. Hard work is generally rewarded and for those with a long memory, Wade Boggs went from a liability to a Gold Glove. But sometimes hard work simply cannot counteract lack of ability. So far I have not seen anything defensively from Devers that warrants his long-term ability to defensively hold down the hot corner.

Where Devers will most certainly make an impact is hitting.  So far we have seen Devers ability to adjust as the pitcher’s probe for a weakness. Slumps to Devers are apparently inconsequential as after a day or two respite  Devers is back on the hitting track. At his age and level of, and no doubt, continuing physical development expect long balls, gap doubles, and a .300 average. Devers is a top of the line hitting prospect.

Do you pull the plug on Devers at third? The short-term answer is no since Devers other options are DH and first base.  Devers has no real experience with either. The Red Sox also have Hanley Ramirez to DH or to play first with the possibility of Sam Travis platooning with HanRam at both positions.

What the Red Sox do have is quite possibly the best defensive third sacker in the American League in Deven Marrero. Marrero owns a 15.9 UZR/150 and is on the plus sides with Defensive Runs Saved (5). Marrero is by trade a shortstop, but fielding apparently is his gateway to remaining in the majors since a .215 career average will not terrify many pitchers.

The Red Sox are not alone with Marrero as a potential late-inning defensive replacement since Tzu-Wei Lin showed some much promise with both glove and bat.  Lin is an uber-utility player in the mold of Brock Holt only with better speed and defensive acumen.

Last on the tote board is the possibility that the Red Sox could sign Eduardo Nunez. Nunez is not in the defensive sphere of Lin or Marrero, but he is certainly a run producer and a possible disruptor on the bases, but if the Red Sox sign him just where do they play him? And using Nunez as a late-inning defensive player is simply not in the cards for Nunez or the Red Sox.

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So the plug will remain in place for the foreseeable future meaning 2018. The Red Sox will have either Marrero or Lin available for late game defensive needs when a game may hinge on a defensive mistake. Devers will also continue to apply himself, but eventually the obvious will become the deciding factor – Devers is suitable for other than third. If they actually sign Nunez eventual could be 2018.

That would open other possibilities and conversely, some trade movement – I do believe Dave Dombrowski is not Mr. Reluctant when it comes to making deals. Likewise, if the player movement does take place it will not be Devers unless Mike Trout is coming to Boston.

Devers will be a weak link in the defensive chain and that will have consequences during the season.  We have already seen that, but the Red Sox do have options to minimize any defensive shortcomings by Devers.

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Manager John Farrell has already used Marrero in late innings in recent games to address the potential defensive issue. You may see Marrero on the postseason roster just for that reason. The short term is now and the Red Sox need to be prepared to tighten the defense in the playoffs. As the saying goes you are only as strong as your weakest link.

Stats through 9/23