Red Sox 2019 Report Cards: Third baseman Rafael Devers
By Sean Penney
Evaluating the 2019 season of Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers and assigning a grade based on how his production lived up to expectations.
It’s not enough to credit Rafael Devers for emerging as one of the league’s best hitters this season. What the Boston Red Sox third baseman produced was historically great for a player his age.
The 22-year old set career-highs across the board, hitting .311 with a .916 OPS, 32 home runs and 115 RBI. Devers was second in the American League with 201 hits and became the youngest player in franchise history to record a 200-hit season.
Devers led the league with 54 doubles, making him the youngest player in franchise history to reach 50+ doubles in a season. He and Xander Bogaerts are the first pair of teammates in MLB history to hit 30+ home runs and 50+ doubles in the same season. Devers also tallied a league-leading 90 extra-base hits, the most in franchise history by a player under the age of 23 in a single season.
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His 32 home runs topped Butch Hobson (30 home runs in 1977) for the most by a Red Sox third baseman.
J.D. Martinez, Bogaerts and Devers are the first trio of Red Sox teammates to hit .300+ with 30+ home runs in the same season.
Part of his improvement at the plate can be attributed to Devers cutting back on his strikeout rate. He struck out about 24 percent of the time in his first two seasons but cut down to 17.0 K% this year. He struck out fewer times (119) than he did last year (121) despite receiving nearly 200 more at-bats.
Great things tend to happen when Devers makes contact since he hits the ball with authority. Devers led the majors with 252 Hard Hit balls (95+ mph exit velocity) and ranked 16th with a 92.1 average exit velocity, per Baseball Savant.
His defense remains a work in progress but Devers has made strides in the field. He led the league at his position with 22 errors but most of those came early in the season before he settled in and showed steady improvement.
If the Red Sox had made the playoffs we’d be talking about Devers battling Bogaerts for the AL MVP award. Boston’s disappointing team record drops them both back to the dark horse candidate section of the ballot but that takes nothing away from their individual accomplishments.
Devers has made the leap to superstar status with a historical season. He’s doing things we’ve never seen a Red Sox hitter do at such as young age. When you move ahead of Ted Williams on any franchise-record list, you know you’re doing something right.
Devers will remain one of baseball’s best bargains next season, his last before he gains arbitration eligibility. There have been whispers about a possible extension to lock him up through his arbitration years and potentially delay free agency but now doesn’t seem to be the right time considering ownership’s insistence on dipping under the luxury tax.
Either way, Devers won’t hit free agency until at least 2024 and will remain a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come.