This past offseason, Rafael Devers signed a 10-year extension, which begins in 2024, and is the largest deal in team history with a total value of $313.5 million dollars. He was the only one of the Red Sox homegrown stars that the team decided to commit to for the long haul. This was a good decision and a very necessary one after trading Mookie Betts and letting Xander Bogaerts leave in free agency.
Fresh off of this great news, Devers reported to spring training with the newly inflated expectations that a deal of that magnitude bestows upon its recipient. So far, it’s fair to ask whether Devers is living up to this massive contract. His slash line is underwhelming by his standards at .242/.283/.500 with a 103 wRC+. If those numbers stay there for the entire season, that would represent his second lowest batting average of his career and his lowest on-base percentage. Moreover, he’s striking out more than he was last year and walking less.
While all of these things sound like bad news, if we take a look under the hood we see that the run producing engine that is Devers looks to be running smoothly. The first number to consider is his BABIP, which sits at .246 compared to his career average of .315. This tells us that he’s having some seriously bad batted-ball luck. Devers’ traditional counting stats are still quite strong; his 13 home runs and 44 RBI are 9th and 4th best in baseball, respectively, and his isolated power of .258 is one point off his career high from 2021.
Looking at his expected numbers, we see what the future has in store for him if he just simply continues doing what he’s doing. His expected weighted on base average is 39 points higher than his actual wOBA of .366. His expected batting average of .279 is also much more in line with his career batting average of .280. Devers is still hitting the ball exceptionally hard, and if he maintains his current pace his hard hit rate of 51.6% would be the highest of his career. His average exit velocity is tied for his career best, he’s pulling the ball more than ever, and he’s hitting fewer ground balls than ever before. For a run producing middle of the order bat, these all seem like good things.
Oddly, he has yet to record a single infield hit so far this season. Pitchers are attacking him a little bit differently by throwing him fewer fastballs than at any other point in his career. Off-speed and breaking pitches are the majority of his diet and so far he’s struggling slightly against sliders, changeups, and splitters. Of these pitches, the only one that has given him any prolonged difficulty over multiple years is the splitter. This provides me with ample reason to assume he will adapt.
Devers is doing a good job of controlling what he can control and is swinging at more pitches in the zone than ever before. He also has the lowest called strike rate of his entire career which shows that he’s still looking to do damage against a high percentage of pitches in the zone. His contact rate is extremely healthy at 75.3%, above his career mark.
In the field Devers, has been doing a fantastic job at third base. As Jen McCaffrey outlined on Friday, he has taken his craft seriously by working with fellow countryman Manny Machado on the nuances of the position. He has carried what he learned and is continuing to work on his skills with Carlos Febles before each game. It shows in the numbers. So far this season his OAA is +1 at third base. According to Inside Edge Fielding, he has also done something that he’s never done before in his career: he’s made 6.3% of plays classified as “remote”. Remote plays are classified as plays with a 1-10% chance of being made. Additionally, he is making 23.5% of “unlikely” plays, which are categorized as having a 10-40% chance of being made. This too is a career high.
Overall, Devers is clearly living up to the expectations that his massive contract places upon his broad shoulders. His defense is excellent and he is impacting the baseball as hard as he ever has. He really hasn’t gotten “hot” this year and, despite that, he still ranks among the league leaders in counting stats. When his luck starts to turn the league needs to look out. Rather than a disappointing year we may be looking at a career best year for Devers.