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How Rafael Devers can become an elite hitter

The Red Sox third baseman is a good hitter who can become a great one if he can balance aggressiveness and patience at the plate

MLB: APR 08 Red Sox at Orioles Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers has had a strong start to his young career. He made his Major League debut at the ripe age of 20, playing about ⅓ of the season in 2017. Since 2018 he has served as the Red Sox everyday third baseman, though he’s shown the ups-and-downs typical of a raw but talented player.

Devers’ peak came in 2019, when over the course of a full season he slashed .311/.361/.555, good for a 133 wRC+ and nearly six wins. The glaring negative in that slash line of course is the low OBP compared with his batting average. That breakout season Devers only walked 48 times in 702 plate appearances, a 6.8 percent walk rate. That number actually worsened in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, when he walked only 13 times in nearly 250 plate appearances, a 5.2 percent rate.

Nearly every article we write at this point in the season we need to caveat, since we’re talking about 10 percent of a season, but so far, Devers is taking more walks and showing more patience at the plate. The Red Sox offense has been on a torrid pace, posting the league’s highest wRC+ (127), wOBA (.353), and runs scored (100 runs in just 18 games), and Devers has been a large part of that success.

Devers has played in 16 of the Red Sox’ 18 games, and so far has posted a walk rate of 11.6 percent, doubling his walk percentage compared to last season. In 69 plate appearances he’s walked 8 times...he’s more than halfway to his 2020 walk total in about ¼ of the times at the plate.

What Devers needs to do to improve from a good hitter to a great hitter is keep his aggressiveness at the plate, but being more selective. He is known by regular Red Sox watchers as an aggressive hitter and first pitch swinger, who when he’s leading off an inning, can hit a home run before the broadcast is even back from commercial.

Walks and patience are an integral part of a great hitters’ skillset, but what Raffy doesn’t want to do is lose the edge he has when he’s aggressive at the plate. In that career-year 2019, he had 33 first pitch hits, including nine home runs on an 0-0 count. Walks are great, but if those are the results of first-pitch swings, then that’s even better.

So far this year, opposing pitchers have offered first pitch fastballs over 70 percent of the time Devers comes up to bat. Raffy has only swing at five of those fastballs, and he’s put-up two singles on them.

The results remain to be seen for a full season, but with an increased walk rate, and a more balanced approach between aggressiveness and patience, Devers can continue to improve. Typically players get more patient as they mature and become better hitters with age. If that’s the case for Devers, he’ll be a major asset for the Red Sox for many years to come.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano