Red Sox star Rafael Devers hit a massive home run on a fastball
When the weather heats up, so does the bat of Rafael Devers. The Boston Red Sox third baseman has a history of producing at his best during the summer months but the rising temperatures aren’t the only type of heat he can handle. Devers is proving he’s capable of handling the elite velocity of some of the game’s best fastball pitchers.
The Red Sox capped a three-game sweep of the New York Yankees by hammering their ace in his worst start of the year. Gerrit Cole coughed up a season-high six runs (five earned) and three home runs, including a three-run blast by Devers in the first inning.
Devers fouled off the first two pitches to fall behind 0-2 in the count. Cole decided it was challenge time, sending a 100 mph fastball right down the middle of the plate and daring Devers to catch up to it. Devers obliged, smashing the heater 451 feet over the bullpen and into the right field bleachers.
Cole’s fastball, which officially registered at 100.1 mph, is the second-fastest pitch hit for a home run by a Red Sox player in the Statcast era (since 2015). It trails only the 102.8 mph pitch that Devers blasted for a home run against Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman in 2017.
His ability to crush fastballs with elite velocity is notable since it wasn’t long ago that we were wondering if Devers was a liability against fastball-heavy pitchers. When the Red Sox faced Houston to open the month of June, we saw Astros pitchers attack Devers almost exclusively with fastballs and he wasn’t able to make them pay.
Devers was hitting a meager .159 with a .355 SLG against fastballs at the time and had struck out 52 times in 107 at-bats with a staggering 39.6 Whiff% against the heater.
Since then, his batting average against the fastball has risen to a more respectable .251 to go along with a .491 SLG, per Baseball Savant. Nine of his 19 home runs this season have come against a fastball. He still fares significantly better against offspeed and breaking balls but he’s producing enough against fastballs to discourage opposing pitchers from pounding him repeatedly with the pitch.
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Even when he was struggling, Devers remained among the elite in the Statcast categories such as Barrel Percentage, Hard Hit Percentage, and Exit Velocity. He crushes the ball when he makes contact, his problem was that he wasn’t connecting frequently enough against fastballs. We know from his history of hammering 100+ mph pitches that he has the bat speed to catch up to elite velocity. His problem was a mechanical issue that was throwing off his timing at the plate.
Devers appears to have made strides toward correcting the issue, cutting his Whiff% against fastballs from 39.6% earlier this month to 35.1% in a few short weeks. We know good things tend to happen when Devers puts the ball in play so the improved contact rate has naturally led to an increase in productivity.
Manager Alex Cora noted that when Devers was struggling, he was showing a tendency to let his swing get too big when he anticipated a fastball was coming. We can see that wasn’t the case in his home run against Cole. Devers timed the pitch perfectly with a smooth, compact swing designed to make hard contact without swinging out of his shoes. This is an encouraging sign that Devers has learned from his rough patch.
Devers is now ranked fifth in the American League with 19 home runs and his 64 RBI trails only Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (66). Devers is also fourth in the league with a .577 SLG and seventh with a .926 OPS.
Opposing pitchers should still fear the damage that Devers can do against offspeed and breaking pitches so he’s still likely to see a steady diet of fastballs. However, after serving a reminder of what he can do to one of the game’s elite fastballs with his homer against Cole, pitching staffs will think twice about challenging Devers with a fastball over the middle.