Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers has seen a drastic rise in his batting average this season. What’s changed with his swing?
Rafael Devers is having the breakout year that many expected when he arrived as one of the top prospects in the Boston Red Sox organization. His raw power and quick bat speed were tools that enticed scouts into projecting lofty home run totals in his future but few expected him to be competing for a batting title at this early stage of his career.
Yet here we are, more than a quarter of the way through the season, with Devers firmly in the race. He enters the day sporting a .331 average that ranks third in the American League and seventh in the majors. That may come as a surprise from a player who hit a paltry .240 last season but it’s no fluke.
The most significant reason to believe in this meteoric rise in batting average is the improved patience that Devers has shown at the plate. He was a bit strikeout prone last year with a 24.7 K% but he’s cut that rate dramatically down to 14.3%, the 14th lowest strikeout rate in the AL. Only J.D. Martinez (14.0 K%) has struck out at a lower rate among qualified Red Sox hitters this season.
This reduction in strikeouts coincides with an uptick in walks. Devers’ 10.3 BB% isn’t going to put him anywhere near the league leaders but it’s a notable jump from his previous career-high 7.8 BB%.
Patience doesn’t necessarily mean swinging at fewer pitches. Devers has a 51.4 Swing% this season that is almost identical to his career percentage, per FanGraphs. The difference is that Devers isn’t hacking away at bad pitches, leading to a career-high 78.8 Contact%.
Good things can happen when you put the ball in play, certainly when compared to striking out, which provides no value. A .378 BABIP that is well above league average and anything Devers has previously produced may seem like an anomaly begging for regression but there are factors leading to this improvement beyond luck.
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It may not show in his home run totals yet but Devers is crushing the ball, posting career-highs with a 51.5 Hard Hit% and 92.4 Exit Velocity, per Baseball Savant. Those metrics place Devers in the top-six percent and top-eight percent in the majors respectively.
Devers has seen his line drive percentage increase to 26.2% this season. A scorching line drive hit on a rope is far less likely to turn into an out than a lazy fly ball or a grounder to an infielder. A career-low 12.1 IFFB% shows Devers has cut back on the weak contact leading to pop-up outs. Devers is already halfway to last year’s total of 18 infield hits and owns a career-best 12.7 IFH%. Shedding a few pounds over the winter has led to Devers beating out a few extra infield hits, a skill that is typically a staple for hitters with a high BABIP.
The 22-year old is the youngest player on the Red Sox roster – yes, even younger than rookie phenom Michael Chavis. We should expect some bumps in the road for hitters at this age, which makes what Devers has been doing even more impressive.
If Devers is able to sustain his patience at the plate, hard contact and ability to drive the ball to all fields, his lofty batting average will prove legitimate.