Rafael Devers- Thoughts heading into 2021

Tuff Ghost

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 15, 2005
435
Rafael Devers is heading into what should be a very revealing year. After a breakout 2019, he went backwards in the shortened 2020 season, a lot of which was caused by a very poor start (and also a tail-off at the very end). The hope is that if given a full season, his numbers would have progressed closer to 2019 and the poor start would have lost some of its weight. He also suffered an ankle injury on August 9th that affected his mobility and defense, but he played on for the most part.

There is talk of him being in the cliched "best shape of his life" (see Febles in this Athletic article) and he gets reunited with Cora, so hopefully this leads to a big season and 2020 gets relegated to nothing more than a career footnote.

His basic career numbers so far:
Year Age BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2017 20 .284 .338 .482 .819 112
2018 21 .240 .298 .433 .731 94
2019 22 .311 .361 .555 .916 133
2020 23 .263 .310 .483 .793 110

Hitting: The Good
He continued hitting the ball hard, very hard. His barrels % and average exit velocity were both great in 2020.
Year Barrel % Hard Hit % Exit Velocity
2017 8.5% 44.8% 89.8 mph
2018 9.1% 42.2% 91 mph
2019 9.0% 48.4% 92.5 mph
2020 12.1% 43.6% 93 mph

You can tell how good those numbers are by looking at his percentile rankings versus MLB hitters, most notably the 96th percentile for exit velocity last year:
Year Barrel Hard Hit Exit Velocity xwOBA
2018 67 75 85 21
2019 62 93 95 85
2020 80 74 96 51

The issue that can be seen in that table above is that his xwOBA was pretty mediocre, at the 51st percentile. Why did a guy who hits the ball so hard and barrels-up so often have an average xwOBA?

Hitting: The Bad:
Last year, his strikeout % went up by 10% versus 2019 and his walk % declined another 1.6% versus 2019.
Year K% BB% BB/K
2017 23.8% 7.5% 0.32
2018 24.7% 7.8% 0.31
2019 17.0% 6.8% 0.40
2020 27.0% 5.2% 0.19

That 0.19 BB/K ratio was the 7th lowest of all qualified batters in 2020. Typically big power and strikeout guys will walk a lot more than this, so if he is going to continue down this path, he needs to find more patience at the plate.

Hitting: What to Watch:
His O-Swing % (percentage of pitches swung at outside of the strike zone) has gone way up, and probably as a result, pitchers have thrown him less pitches in the strike zone (Zone %). I hope that plate discipline becomes a major topic with him this season.
Year O-Swing% Zone% O-Swing vs MLB Ave Zone vs MLB Ave
2017 36.0% 45.00% 6.1% 0.0%
2018 37.2% 40.40% 6.3% -2.6%
2019 40.5% 40.40% 8.9% -1.4%
2020 42.3% 37.30% 11.7% -3.9%

You can see the change in his rolling averages between 2019 and 2020, he swings more outside the zone and the pitchers throw less in the zone.
39177

Fielding: Is there a future here?
I think he has a lot to prove this year. The Red Sox are working on a number of defensive drills this spring, showing an increased focused on it. He is supposedly in better shape than last year. Hopefully the ankle injury was a true detractor to his play last year. Regardless, if he wants to stay an MLB 3B, I think he again needs to show he can range well to his left (he had great Outs Above Average numbers in 2019, reaching the 91st percentile, versus last year and 2018 where he was 11th and 3rd percentile). It would be nice if defensive WAR stopped counting against him on the wrong side of the ledger. If he does not play well, the DH spot starts to loom ever closer.

Projections:
The projections I've seen tend to have his offense about in the middle between 2019 and 2020 with a wOBA around .355 and wRC+ of 120. A .355 wOBA would have ranked around 50th out of all qualified batters in 2019, so certainly a nice number, but maybe not quite what everyone was dreaming about during his 2019 season. Is this what we expect? Can he take his 2019 breakout to the next level?

How do we expect his 2020 season to go? Can he cut back on the strikeouts and walk more, while maintaining that elite exit velocity? I am hoping.
 

allmanbro

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 19, 2005
247
Portland, Maine
Awesome post. I expect big things, but I recognize it may be colored by my hope for big things. In general, I am not reading too much into his poor performance last year, given the unusual season, and the fact that he is still only 24 and we'd expect some bumps in the road anyway. I really think last year was all about the slow start:

39178

He was just awful for the first six weeks. The dip at the end is not great, but the start is what really drags down his season numbers.

I think the goal is overall production that roughly matches 2019, but with a slightly different profile: more HRs (35-40 if things go well), but a lower BA (probably more like .280-.290). I think the steamer projection looks like a good start, but would hope for a little added ISO/SLG:
Steamer says:
BBrate: 7.7%
Krate: 20.0%
BA: .281
OBP: .340
SLG: .530
HR: 35
 

TonyPenaNeverJuiced

Member
SoSH Member
Jun 7, 2015
235
After the quality of these first two posts, this thread is intimidating, which explains the lack of discussion so far on one of our most exciting and enjoyable players (IMO).

Digging in, Devers particularly struggled with fastballs in 2020. He whiffed on 35.5% of fastballs, an 11% uptick from a career-best 24.5% in 2019 ('18: 28.0; 17: 26.6; all stats from Statcast). By whatever measure, Devers just struggled with fastballs, four-seam or otherwise, but particularly four-seamers (whiffing 44.3% of the time when one was thrown).

I'm highlighting his whiffs here because Devers is swinging at the same % of fastballs as ever (around 50%). Pitchers are throwing more fastballs to him, but only barely ('17 & '18: ~57.5%; '19: 59.2; '20: 60.3). A third of the time, when he struck out, it was on a fastball ('17 & '18: ~26.2%; '19: 19.6). Something caused this precipitous drop.

In his four seasons, Dever's has been a rollercoaster against fastballs. Despite seeing the same number and swinging at the same percentage of heaters, his advanced hitting stats are peaks and valleys, with 2018 and 2020 being the lows. Comparing 2017 and 2020, years with remarkable similar sample sizes ('17: 514 FB/121 PA/165 Batted Balls; '20: 591/127/165 Batted Balls), yields remarkably similar results (Hits: 31 vs. 27; HR: 6 vs. 6; XBA: .220 vs. 217; ground ball %: 48.1 vs. 46.6; chasing %: 30.1 v. 31.3), and starkly different results (line drives are up 10%, foul balls are down 14%; barrels up 3.5%). I'll only add that this gets starker when you look at FanGraphs Fourseam stats.

I think this Roenicke quote from 9/8/20 is telling: "The high fastball . . . was something that he’s been chasing too much of. But that thing [a home run against a fastball] was really hit." When Devers hits a fastball, good things can happen.

I found this article after beginning this post (it contains some similar stats), and it makes some good, further points:
SPStreamer said:
The slump began with pitchers dominating Devers with fastballs. The drop in his xBA against fastballs from 2019 to 2020 was astounding, from .289 to .162. His drop-off in xSLG was even worse, from .550 to .418.
. . .
At the beginning of the 2020 season, pitchers attacked Devers with 50% Fastballs in July, but only a month later, that increased by 12% and stayed there through the end of the season as they watched him struggle. In the sprint of a season that was 2020, there was little chance to make adjustments and correct any poor mechanics.
. . .
Pitching off the high fastball, pitchers used their Breaking Balls to help get Devers off-balance and rollover on the ball to an abysmal 8-degree Launch Angle.
. . .
I suggest a read if you're interested. The article goes on to make some mechanical suggestions I won't pretend to be an area of my expertise (which is not really much of anything anyway!).
SPStreamer said:
There was an ever-so-slight change in his pre-swing load up (leg kick), which forced him to slightly lose control of his weight distribution.
. . .
In terms of mechanical adjustments, if Devers were to close his stance slightly and shorten his leg kick . . . there would be more time for adjustment.
What else to do? Well, in 2020 Devers stats with men on were substantially better than without, and he's even a tick better when they're in scoring position; he walked less and struck out more when there's no one on. I think Devers should be lower in the batting order and not bat 2nd. Whether it's because he times the ball better out of the stretch or because he's luckier/comfier without the shift, Devers should bat when there are runners on (duh). Tomase lays out the 2nd and 5th debate well and concludes as I would: I'd like Raf to hit after Bogey and J.D, and he should bat 5th in the lineup.
 

Minneapolis Millers

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 15, 2005
2,739
Twin Cities
I have a hard time getting behind a plan that has X and Devers getting the 4th and 5th most ABs on a team that threatens to have a ton of hit and miss in the lineup, with an emphasis on the latter. Tomase isn’t convincing. Putting Hernandez and his .313 OBP at lead off makes zero sense to me. Verdugo, X, Devers, JDM sets the table and alternates well. If we don’t care about handedness in our top 4, then they could flip JD and Raffy, but I think I’d rather have a slimmed down Devers running in front of Martinez than vice versa.
 

geoduck no quahog

not particularly consistent
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Nov 8, 2002
12,594
Seattle, WA
Is anyone besides myself surprised that the concept of Devers moving to 1B and Dalbec back to 3rd was never discussed?

Is it a frail ego thing? It just seemed to make sense (not that learning how to play 1st is a piece of cake)
 

Rwillh11

Member
SoSH Member
Apr 23, 2010
122
Is anyone besides myself surprised that the concept of Devers moving to 1B and Dalbec back to 3rd was never discussed?

Is it a frail ego thing? It just seemed to make sense (not that learning how to play 1st is a piece of cake)
I think there it's an interesting question why it hasn't been discussed more and why the team didn't seem to consider it.

Part of it may be that Dalbec is presumably also going to be the better defensive first baseman, and is 4-5 inches taller (officially 6'4" vs 6'0"). But I think more likely is that they aren't that sold on Dalbec being a foundational part of the team going forward. They want to see if he can stick as a major league player, and moving your star player off of the only position he's played for years to accommodate someone who might not be an important part of the team going forward has its own issues. This is probably even more true given that Devers is only 24 and has shown in the past that he can play at least an average third - he's obviously more valuable going forward as a third baseman.

If Dalbec shows he can hit major league pitching and Devers struggles at third this year, maybe they will revisit. But Dalbec also might strike out 40+% of the time and get sent down, in which case shuffling Devers around will have made no sense.
 

curly2

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 8, 2003
4,258
The Sox may be thinking of Triston Casas as their first baseman of the future, and that future could arrive in 2022. That could be one reason to keep Devers at third.
 

Cesar Crespo

79
SoSH Member
Dec 22, 2002
14,405
Or the team just doesn't think much of Dalbec at 3b for whatever reason. I could be remembering wrong, but I think most scouting reports had him ending up as average at best with time.
 

Red(s)HawksFan

Well-Known Member
Silver Supporter
SoSH Member
Jan 23, 2009
13,891
Maine
Or the team just doesn't think much of Dalbec at 3b for whatever reason. I could be remembering wrong, but I think most scouting reports had him ending up as average at best with time.
He's not significantly better than Devers at third, if he's better at all. His big plus is his arm, which is kinda wasted at first. But still, it boils down to him not being good enough at third to displace Devers. I don't think that reflects on Devers either. It's pretty rare for a prospect/rookie to push an incumbent out of his regular position.
 

Sandy Leon Trotsky

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 11, 2007
2,934
Also... I think both management and Cora see Devers as an above average 3B using their own formulas, despite the popular stats. We know he actually has great footwork and movement and his "bad defensive 3B" seems to be mostly because of mental errors.
 

TonyPenaNeverJuiced

Member
SoSH Member
Jun 7, 2015
235
I have a hard time getting behind a plan that has X and Devers getting the 4th and 5th most ABs on a team that threatens to have a ton of hit and miss in the lineup, with an emphasis on the latter. Tomase isn’t convincing. Putting Hernandez and his .313 OBP at lead off makes zero sense to me. Verdugo, X, Devers, JDM sets the table and alternates well. If we don’t care about handedness in our top 4, then they could flip JD and Raffy, but I think I’d rather have a slimmed down Devers running in front of Martinez than vice versa.
Tomorrow's opening day lineup:
1. Kiké Hernandez, 2B
2. Alex Verdugo, CF,
3. J.D. Martinez, DH
4. Xander Bogaerts, SS
5. Rafael Devers, 3B

6. Hunter Renfroe, RF
7. Marwin Gonzalez, LF
8. Christian Vazquez, C
9. Bobby Dalbec, 1B
– Nathan Eovaldi, SP

Not saying anything you said was incorrect, but Cora's going for it. R>L>R>R>L.
 

Philip Jeff Frye

Member
SoSH Member
Oct 23, 2001
7,818
Tomorrow's opening day lineup:
1. Kiké Hernandez, 2B
2. Alex Verdugo, CF,
3. J.D. Martinez, DH
4. Xander Bogaerts, SS
5. Rafael Devers, 3B

6. Hunter Renfroe, RF
7. Marwin Gonzalez, LF
8. Christian Vazquez, C
9. Bobby Dalbec, 1B
– Nathan Eovaldi, SP

Not saying anything you said was incorrect, but Cora's going for it. R>L>R>R>L.
Ah, the good old days! It's like we're back in the 1970s when you made your middle infielders lead off men because they couldn't do anything else with the bat.
 

nvalvo

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 16, 2005
17,931
Rogers Park
Ah, the good old days! It's like we're back in the 1970s when you made your middle infielders lead off men because they couldn't do anything else with the bat.
I also worry that the run of righties Vaz/Dalbec/Hernández makes us vulnerable to a ROOGY, although I guess we'll usually have one of Marwin or Franchy on the bench.
 

Minneapolis Millers

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 15, 2005
2,739
Twin Cities
After a month of spring training, with Hernandez taking up Cora’s challenge, I’m willing to see where this goes. (Of course, what choice do we have, exactly?). If Hernandez can really turn into a different hitter, great. Maybe it’s as simple as laying off junk and balls early in the count...
 

Sandy Leon Trotsky

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 11, 2007
2,934
Needless to say, I'm pretty sure that Devers will turn into a monster sooner rather than later... but his slow starts are so frustrating. Has to be mental?
 

nvalvo

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 16, 2005
17,931
Rogers Park
I've mentioned this in the game thread a couple times, but I think Devers will be challenging to extend. Here's my reasoning:
  • He should want to be paid like an elite third baseman. In his eyes, his comps are guys like Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman, Jose Ramirez, and Anthony Rendon. That's not unreasonable. Some of the guys have hit a bit better than he has, but he's younger than most of them, and his current performance is a 130ish OPS+ over the last few seasons. He's already a top-ten third baseman today, maybe top-five, and he still appears to have considerable untapped potential.
  • Giving him a deal based on Arenado's (8/$260, signed at age 28 with 5 years of service time, a 120ish OPS+ over the preceding few seasons, and plus defense) or Rendon's (7/$245, signed at 29 as a FA, a 130ish OPS+ over the preceding few seasons, and good defense) has huge bust potential.
    • Devers has three years service time. An extension on that basis would probably be something like buying out his arb 4/5/6 years at 8/14/20 and then buying a bunch of FA seasons at $25 or 30m on top. Rendon and Arenado are signed through 36, but let's say we sign Devers through 34: a ten year deal would be worth something like 10/$240.
    • Another comp is Alex Bregman's 5/$100m extension, which he signed with two years of service time and at age 25, that would be appealing. Bregman was a year older than Devers and had a year less service; this deal signed him through age 30. A comparable deal for Devers would be a bit more money: something like 5/$130 or 6/$150 might be comps.
      • I don't know that I take the Bregman deal if I'm advising Devers.
  • But is he actually a third baseman at all? The metrics say he's better than the eye test suggests, but I would have to think that the team should be skeptical about that, especially when you project out through the life of a hypothetical extension.
    • If I'm at Bloom's desk, I think I would want to pay him more like a young, 130 OPS+ 1B/DH with offensive headroom.
    • I'm saying that the comps are guys like Yordan Alvarez, Miguel Sano, Austin Meadows, Rowdy Tellez...
    • Sano is the worst of that bunch, but he signed a 3/$30m extension. The rest of them will sign Nelson-Cruz-with-the-Mariners type deals: 3/$50, 4/$70 type deals.
  • That's a big difference, and I don't see how you settle it.
A lot depends on what the team actually thinks of Devers' defense. If they think it's actually good or has the potential to be good at third base, then there is probably the common ground necessary for an extension. But if they don't — and Devers does — there really might not be.
 

Merkle's Boner

Member
SoSH Member
Apr 24, 2011
2,657
I think a lot depends on what the Devers camp thinks of Raffy’s defense. If they realize he may not be long for 3B, and will have to move to 1B/DH eventually, I would think they might jump at a Bregman like deal of 5/$120 or so.
 

azsoxpatsfan

Member
SoSH Member
May 23, 2014
1,859
Devers defense is fascinating. He’s not a total butcher out there, and by UZR/150 is basically a slightly worse Bregman. The thing is there’s no real reason he can’t stay at 3rd-his range is above average, he has good hands and a good arm. The problem is that he occasionally just fucks up a routine throw/grounder, and that causes him to lose a lot of defensive value. I think part of it could legitimately be him overthinking it, as was raised as a possibility when he made that great catch on the liner and throw to first for the double play a few games ago. I’d give him this year to figure it out. In 2019, he was a plus defender, and if he can get back to that while OPSing .950, that’s an easy decision to extend imo
 

Niastri

Member
SoSH Member
One thing I think has to come into the calculation is Devers' newfound commitment to fitness.

I was shocked at how much weight he lost in the off-season, his body totally transformed.

If Devers keeps the weight off, that could have serious ramifications on both his ability to stay healthy and his ability to stay a third basemen into his 30s.

Both of which will dramatically effect how much money he can make. Or the Sox can afford to pay him.
With the huge difference in value over the two possible outcomes (as Illustrated by nvalvo above) the two sides will have a long way to meet in the middle to find an agreement.

Therefore, it seems likely an extension won't be possible until there are more data points, perhaps two whole seasons worth. I don't expect an extension before Devers' walk year, if ever.

Edit: P.S. Does anybody think his change in fitness might be a cause of his not so slow start? Is skinny-Devers also hot-right-out-of-the-gate Devers as well?
 

shaggydog2000

Well-Known Member
Gold Supporter
SoSH Member
Apr 5, 2007
8,135
Edit: P.S. Does anybody think his change in fitness might be a cause of his not so slow start? Is skinny-Devers also hot-right-out-of-the-gate Devers as well?
Maybe, but we don't have a lot of evidence to base that off of. This is one time when he lost weight and had a good start, that is one set of events that could be totally unrelated. Remember that baseball is almost all an explosive sport, not an endurance one. You don't need the body of a distance runner to be good at it, as proven by the vast majority of baseball players ever. In the long run is not being heavy good for his joints? Most likely. Will it prevent the sorts of injuries baseball players get on a regular basis, which are related to the stresses of playing rather than just the stresses of being a big dude? I dunno. But this paper suggests there is some effect, with average and smaller players playing more games than heavier ones:

https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/84114249.pdf

But as a counterpoint, OPS tracks positively with weight. If you think about pure explosiveness athletes like shotputters and weight lifters, they tend to be heavy dudes. Because like Mac on that one season of Always Sunny, they're constantly cultivating mass. Baseball isn't shotputting, but it's a lot closer to that than a sport like basketball is. And Devers has moved around fine at 3rd, showing plus range by metrics every year but last season. I don't know that him having a beach body is going to make a huge difference in his performance. But it does show that he was able to work out in the offseason and put in the time, which can't hurt.