Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers was expected to emerge as a power hitter yet he’s still seeking his first home run of 2019.
There have been plenty of issues plaguing the Boston Red Sox this season but the most baffling may be the sudden disappearance of Rafael Devers‘ power stroke.
It wouldn’t be quite accurate to label this drought a slump. In some regards, Devers has been one of the team’s best hitters. His .287 average and .380 OBP both represent career-highs. His six doubles are tied for the fourth most of the team and only two behind Mookie Betts for the lead. Yet here we are a month into the season and Devers hasn’t hit a home run.
At this point last year, Devers already had four homers. He finished the season with a career-high 21 in 121 games. Continued development from the 22-year old over the course of a full season was expected to see him emerge as a 30+ home run candidate. Instead, Devers has regressed.
It’s far too early to state that Devers can’t reach the lofty totals we projected. We’ve seen his home runs come in bunches before and once he finally gets going he may not stop. In order to do that, he’ll need to make some changes to his swing.
Hitting the ball hard hasn’t been the problem. According to Baseball Savant, his 44.7 Hard Hit Percentage is higher than last season’s and almost identical to his promising rookie campaign. His 90 mph average exit velocity is right in line with his career rate. Neither put him in the elite territory but they are well above-average.
The lack of home runs has little to do with how hard Devers is swinging the bat but rather how he’s swinging it. In an era where launch angle has been the new craze, Devers has pivoted in the opposite direction with a career-low 3.9 Launch Angle. This means his swing isn’t following the path most conducive to bashing home runs when making hard contact with the sweet spot on the bat. Devers has recorded only one barrelled ball among 76 batted balls this season, giving him a 1.3 Barrel Percentage that ranks in the bottom six percent of the league.
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Most sluggers swing for the fences with an uppercut motion designed to loft the ball in the air. The increased chance of hitting home runs is the obvious reason but fly balls can also help avoid the shift that opposing defenses have been deploying more in recent years. Devers has seen his ground ball percentage spike to a career-high 57.3% and he’s also pulling the ball more than ever at a 40.8% rate. The combination of the two plays right into the hands of a shifting defense.
A Red Sox lineup that dominated nearly every offensive category last year is struggling to consistently score runs this season. A decline in home runs has been part of the problem, as Boston ranks 12th in the American League with only 30 homers through 28 games. Devers was supposed to be one of the big bats in the middle of the lineup so his power outage accounts for a fair share of the team’s struggles.
Devers enters the day with a 100 wRC+ and 96 OPS+, signaling that he’s been about league average at the plate this season, if not slightly below. Boston can’t afford for Devers to be merely average when his major league-leading eight errors make him a liability in the field. If Devers isn’t making up for his defensive lapses with his bat then it becomes more difficult to justify giving him significant playing time.
His future remains bright with a ceiling too high to give up on him already. The Red Sox can’t simply cast Devers aside and allow his development to stagnate but it’s up to him to make adjustments to regain his power stroke. Right now, Devers is hurting the Red Sox more than he’s helping and he won’t be able to turn that around until his home run power awakens from its season-long slumber.