Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers flashes defensive talent with outstanding play
By Sean Penney
Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers made an outstanding play.
Rafael Devers has been harshly criticized for his defense but the third baseman for the Boston Red Sox handles the hot corner better than he’s given credit for.
His defensive capabilities were on display Sunday night against the New York Yankees when Aaron Judge hit a laser down the third base line. Devers made a diving stab at the ball to corral it on a hop, spun to his feet and fired a strike across the diamond.
Judge was initially ruled safe but the call was overturned upon review, as it was clear the throw arrived half a step ahead of the runner. We’re talking about mere fractions of a second between when the ball arrives in the glove and the runner’s foot hits the bag. If there was any hesitation from Devers, if he’s slow to get to his feet, if the throw is slightly off the mark, Judge would easily have been safe. Devers handled it perfectly to record the out.
Former Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez could be heard on the ESPN broadcast with complimentary analysis of the play. That’s surprising considering how overzealous A-Rod is with his praise of the Yankees. This is the guy who claimed during this same game that Gio Urshela was the best defensive third baseman in the league. Apparently he forgot which league two-time Platinum Glove award winner Matt Chapman played in. A-Rod has never been shy about his Yankees bias so hearing him gush over a Red Sox player is notable.
The mountain of errors that Devers has piled up in his brief career continues to haunt him, creating the narrative that he can’t handle the hot corner. Devers committed the second-most errors in the majors and most at his position with 22 last year. That’s obviously not ideal but it was an improvement over the 24 he made the previous season in 36 fewer games and Devers continued to get better as the season progressed.
Then he started this season by committing three errors in his first four games and that progress was quickly forgotten. Devers is well aware of his costly defensive lapses but it’s a part of the game that he takes great pride in and he’s working hard to improve his glove work, as he explained to reporters through a translator, per MassLive’s Christopher Smith.
"“I continue to approach my defense the same way I’ve done from day one,” said Devers. “Obviously I know critics will say I don’t have the best defense, but that’s something I work extremely hard on. I am out there early. I do everything I can to improve that. It’s part of the game. Errors are going to happen. Do I want to commit them? Of course not. But I know it’s a part of baseball. There’s a lot of ups and downs. But that’s something I do pride myself in is my defense. I just continue to go out there, put in the work and just play the game because that’s really what I’m focused on. I’m not trying to focus on anything else because like I’ve always told you guys, defense is really important to me. And that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”"
Many of the errors that Devers commits are mental lapses, which aren’t uncommon for young players. The 23-year-old is still a work in progress on defense but plays like the one he made Sunday night prove he has the range and throwing arm to handle his position. He has the skill set, the rest will take time and experience.
It’s important to note that errors and fielding percentage are an antiquated way of evaluating defense. It’s not that avoiding errors isn’t important, but we need to dig deeper in order to assess defensive performance.
We don’t have enough data to properly evaluate defensive performance this season since many advanced metrics are fairly useless in small sample sizes. We can look to last season for a more accurate reading on these metrics.
Devers was below average with -6 defensive runs saved but that hardly suggests he was a defensive liability. Other metrics rated him far more favorably.
Devers ranked fourth among major league third basemen with 7 outs above average last season, per Statcast. He was excellent at fielding the ball when it was hit to his left. Devers had a bit more trouble guarding the line on balls hit to his right but Sunday’s spectacular play shows he’s made strides in that area.
Critics will continue to harp on his defense until he shows more consistency but Devers has the ability to be a solid defensive third baseman. Transforming himself into a complete player is his next step toward becoming a superstar.