Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers is struggling to hit fastballs

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 22: Rafael Devers #11 of the Boston Red Sox bats against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on May 22, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Red Sox defeated the Phillies 4-3. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 22: Rafael Devers #11 of the Boston Red Sox bats against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on May 22, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Red Sox defeated the Phillies 4-3. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers can’t handle the heat

The Houston Astros have a clear plan for approaching Rafael Devers in this series. Their pitching staff is well aware that the Boston Red Sox third baseman is among the league’s most dangerous hitters but they have been able to keep him in check by attacking him with fastballs.

Houston is turning up the heat when Devers steps to the plate and the 24-year-old is wilting. Devers has seen 35 pitches through the first two games against the Astros, all of them fastballs. He’s 0-for-7 with a pair of strikeouts.

This is hardly an anomaly or a small sample-sized fluke. Astros pitchers are going after Devers exclusively with the fastball to expose a season-long trend. Devers is hitting a meager .159 with a .355 SLG against fastballs this season, per Baseball Savant. He has struck out 52 times in 107 at-bats with a staggering 39.6 Whiff% against fastballs.

His current mini-slump has dropped his batting average to .274 but Devers is still having a strong season overall. The extra-base hitting machine leads the American League with 17 doubles and he ranks fourth with 14 home runs and 43 RBI.

Struggling to hit fastballs has led to a rising strikeout rate but Devers remains among the elite when he does make contact. He’s in the top-4% of the league with a 18.2 Barrel% and top-6% with a 53.1% Hard Hit rate.

While fastballs have been a problem, his improvement against the other pitches in an opponent’s arsenal has fueled his production. Devers is hitting a career-high .362 against breaking balls and .485 against offspeed pitches. He’s been particularly effective against the changeup, leading the majors with a Run Value of 10 against the pitch.

He hasn’t been able to handle the fastball though, which unfortunately is the pitch he will face most frequently. Devers is already seeing a fastball a career-high 65.8% of the time and that percentage will rise as more teams catch on to this weakness.

What’s perplexing about his fastball woes is that Devers has proven more than capable of hitting them in the past. He hit .308 with a .547 SLG against fastballs during his breakout 2019 campaign.

Devers made a name for himself as a rookie in 2017 with his game-tying home run at Yankee Stadium on a 102.8 mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman, which set a record for the fastest pitch hit for a home run in the pitch-tracking era. He hit a solid .282 with a .518 SLG during his abbreviated debut season.

We’ve clearly seen that Devers has the bat speed to crush elite velocity. His issues have to do with timing. Manager Alex Cora believes that Devers might be getting a bit too anxious when he expects a fastball and the anticipation has altered his swing, according to WEEI’s Rob Bradford.

"“It seems like he’s gotten away from who he is,” said Cora. “It seems like he knows a fastball is coming and he’s getting bigger and bigger. Sometimes we forget that he’s still young and he’s still learning at this level, and stuff like this is going to happen. One thing is for sure, I told somebody in the seventh inning, ‘There was some progress – he made contact after one of them.’ He’s gonna keep working with Timmy and Pete. That’s something that we’ve been working actually the last few days at home. We saw the trend.”"

The Red Sox are well aware that Devers has struggled with fastballs and they are working with him to make the proper adjustments.

He’s capable of hitting the ball as hard as anyone and will still make a pitcher pay for their mistakes but he doesn’t need to swing out of his shoes every time he sees a fastball. Shortening his swing with two strikes will help cut back on the strikeouts. A willingness to drive the ball the other way will lead to more balls falling in for a hit.

Devers has done it against other pitch types. He’s whiffing less than ever against breaking and offspeed pitches while his 28.8 Oppo% is his highest rate of balls hit to the opposite field since he was a rookie. He’s just not doing it against the fastball. His eyes light up when he sees it coming and he wants to blast it to the moon.

Next. Red Sox Prospect Watch. dark

It’s up to Devers to make the adjustments so he can return to the hitter we know he can be. Until then, pitchers are going to keep exposing him with fastballs. It would be somewhat surprising if he saw anything other than a fastball from Houston pitchers this year and other teams will catch on. Devers needs to get back on track before that happens.