What Better Defense Means For Devers

Recently, while buried in my phone in the middle of a very public place, I stumbled onto this tweet:

I get that the account is referencing the fact that over 42 spring training at-bats, Devers had yet to walk, and even if that’s not actually that interesting, it got me thinking about what a good 2018 from Rafael Devers looks like.

As a quick refresher: Devers hit .284/.338/.482 in 240 plate appearances over 52 games. He crushed that shot off Chapman at Yankee Stadium in the top of the 9th inning to go along with the other nine less memorable homers. He posted a 111 wRC+, .344 wOBA, and looked surprisingly ready for major-league pitching for a 12-year-old. With that said, it wasn’t perfect. He swung at a lot of pitches, many of which were not strikes. He posted a swing percentage four percentage points higher than league average, yet only swung at strikes at a league-average clip.

It’s tempting to look at Devers’ numbers and think about what he could do with 150-ish healthy games under his belt. His offensive potential seems to a central focus this spring, and rightfully so. I think there’s a case to be made, however, that improving his defense is what’s most important towards maximizing his value to this year’s team.

By my count, Devers is the Red Sox’s fifth-most important hitter as it stands currently. The top tier belongs to Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, followed by Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi in no specific order. Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez cancel each other out, while Jackie Bradley Jr. and Christian Vasquez provide more value on the defensive end, with the occasional hot streak sprinkled in every few weeks. Devers matching last year’s offensive production out of the middle/bottom of the order, as a 21-year-old, would be a dream come true.

Strengthening the left side of the Red Sox’ defense, however, would be more important to this team this year. Xander Bogaerts has a good glove by some metrics and a bad one by others, which is tremendously unhelpful. Bogaerts is undoubtedly a major-league shortstop, but it’s just a matter of how good of one. Andrew Benintendi has some work to do in left field, too. Neither are horrendous at their positions, but I’d be a lot more comfortable if the entire left side of the Red Sox defense wasn’t shaky at best.

Even if Devers spends long stretches of this year in a slump, the Red Sox offense should be able to carry the team into the postseason. If Devers continues playing the type of defense that gets him demoted for Deven Marrero during the playoffs, the team’s going to suffer. I love Brock Holt as much as the next guy, but depending on Holt to hold down a position for large chunks of the season just isn’t realistic anymore. Eduardo Nunez and his bad knees need to be ready to replace Dustin Pedroia and his bad knees. I’ll believe the Blake Swihart experiment when I see it outside of Florida backfields. Third base is firmly Devers’ this year, and his progression on defense is what the Red Sox need the most from him this season.

But if he wants to hit more homers off Chapman, that’s fine too.

Photo by Kim Klement — USA TODAY Sports

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