It’s been a rough start to the season for Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers. Is there relief in sight, or will his sophomore slump continue?
The results haven’t been there for Rafael Devers so far this season, with just an 80 wRC+. Understandably, the Boston Red Sox third baseman has left fans a bit cold. Despite the poor numbers, he hasn’t been swinging the bat that badly. Devers is still tied for 93rd in Brls/PA which is solid, but not great. And his average exit velocity of 92.2 MPH is seventeenth best in all MLB. He’s hitting it hard, and he’s doing it fairly often. But a .283 BABIP is keeping his numbers down a bit, which is a bit of an oddity. His hard, medium and soft contact rates are very similar to his brief 2017 stint. If there’s a difference in his batted ball profile, it’s mostly in that he’s gone the other way 6.5% less often. Whereas 3.6% of that has gone to the pull side.
He’s got plenty of power to make a more pull heavy approach work. But going the other way with authority is a sign that he’s staying back on the ball and letting it come to him. Jumping at pitches can be a sign of being too eager, and that possibility is bolstered by a 2% jump in his swinging strike rate. Not to mention an 8.2% jump in zone swing rate. After all, not all pitches in the zone are ones you should swing at. So he’s off to a bit of a rough start. Is there reason to hope he’ll turn it around soon?
He may be doing that already.
On Monday, Red Sox manager Alex Cora had an interesting quote about Devers. J.D. Martinez had found an issue with Devers’ swing. So they put in some work over the weekend to try and address it. Having someone obsessed with swing mechanics on the team certainly pays off. And in more ways than one. This gives us a date to go back to and look for a shift in the numbers.
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Since Saturday was the 9th, we can glance at his results from that point forward, then from Sunday through yesterday to see what stands out. A four day sample from Saturday through last night gives us a 111 wRC+ over 17 PA. Sunday through yesterday produces a 134 in 13 PA. More importantly, Devers has had big hits in each of the last two games. On Monday night in the twelfth inning he hit a double that pushed Xander Bogaerts to third base. Eduardo Nunez was hit by a pitch and two sacrifice flies, propelled the Red Sox to a 2-0 victory.
One of the changes being made is similar to a change that has drastically reduced the number of errors he’s committed since May 25. Slowing things down. The But adjustments don’t all happen in the snap of a finger. It’s a process. And Rafael Devers continued to tweak his swing between games one and two.
Sometimes simple changes can make a big difference.
Closing a batter’s stance can have a number of positive impacts. It streamlines the swing by starting the foot closer to where it will end up during the stride. It can help keep a hitter’s hips and shoulders square to the plate. And it may improve balance. For a batter that has been pulling the ball too much, removing a component of a swing that slows you down seems peculiar. But having a quicker stride may make Rafael Devers feel like he can get to the ball faster. And that may help him to stay back on the ball more. Whatever the actual impacts on his swing, the results in last night’s game were encouraging.
Given the trouble he has had with pitches at the top of the zone this season, that’s a great sign. He took that pitch just a touch to the pull side of center field, clearing the wall easily. While not the kind of opposite field blast that defined him last season, going up the middle for a home run is still progress. It’s far too early to say he’s broken out of his slump for sure. But the last two nights give fans reason to hope that his natural talent will start shining through again.
Do you think Devers is about to go on a hot streak? Is he as good as his 2017 made him look? Sound off in the comments!