Can Rafael Devers stay at third base? The question is one that has followed him dating to the time he signed with the Red Sox as a 16-year-old in 2013.
Yet over the course of his first several years — first as a minor leaguer, then in the big leagues — Devers delivered an effective on-field rebuttal to the concerns about his fitness for the position.
Though he endured periods in which he made errors in clusters from 2017-19, his ruts seemed to become shorter and less frequent with more experience in the big leagues and more maturity at a time when he remained one of the youngest players in the big leagues.
Moreover, in many ways — especially in 2019 — he compensated for the errors with a number of above-average plays thanks to a strong arm and excellent range, particularly to his left. With age, the Sox believed he’d develop into a quality third baseman, with projections for either an average or even above-average defender at the position by his mid-20s. In fact, in 2019, according to both Statcast’s Outs Above Average statistic and the Ultimate Zone Rating metric used by Fangraphs, he graded as having turned an above-average number of balls in play into outs.
The 2020 season, however, has been an ugly one for Devers at third base. He entered Wednesday with a major league-high 13 errors, advanced metrics have him as a clearly below-average defender this year, and while he’s made some strong plays, the growth of recent years has stalled — if not reversed.
“It is worrisome,” said one evaluator who’d long been bullish on the third baseman’s defense. “It hasn’t been a banner year for him, putting it mildly.”
Another evaluator – who thought that the Red Sox might at least want to have an offseason discussion about introducing Devers to another position – wondered whether Devers has seen an uptick in mental lapses due to the absence of fans.
Has the performance been sufficiently concerning that the Red Sox might discuss the possibility of exploring a position change with Devers? For now, such an extreme measure appears unlikely.
The Sox still believe that youth remains an asset — he’s more than a year younger than rookie Bobby Dalbec, and one of eight third basemen age 23 or younger to spend at least 10 games at the position this year — and that his hands, arm, and feet are good enough to stay at the position.
“Raffy’s got the tool set to be a good third baseman. If he can be even an average third baseman defensively, with the way he swings the bat, it’s a huge value for a team,” said Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke. before Wednesday night’s 9-1 victory over the Orioles. “At times there are some lapses. He knows it. He’s really hard on himself when he makes an error. He doesn’t like it. He works at it. And I think he’ll just continue to get better and better.”
But the expectation of progress can’t be taken for granted after his struggles in 2020. To stay at third long term, Devers has work to do.
The Red Sox and MLB are partnering with the City of Boston to provide regular COVID-19 testing to members of the Boston Teachers Union through the end of 2020. MLB will provide tests kits free of charge through its COVID-19 community testing program, with test results produced by the Sports Medicine Research & Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City, which handled COVID-19 tests for MLB during the season. Every week, a randomized sample of 5 percent of BTU teachers will be invited to get tested.
“As part of Major League Baseball’s COVID-19 testing program, the league wanted to ensure there was opportunity to extend their testing benefits beyond the clubs and players, and into the communities where teams operate,” Red Sox CEO/president Sam Kennedy said in a statement. “We are grateful to MLB for giving us this opportunity to partner with the City of Boston and help with their back-to-school rollout.”
The Sox and JetBlue, in collaboration with Boston Pride, also donated more than 60,000 masks for use by BPS teachers and students.
No word yet
Roenicke said that he has yet to talk to chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom about whether he’ll be asked to remain as manager in 2021. Aside from his anticipation that he would discuss his status before heading home for the winter, Roenicke said that he was unsure when he would discuss his future with the club. Bloom is joining the team on their season-ending road series in Atlanta . . . Christian Arroyo, who left Sunday’s game with back spasms and sat on Tuesday, returned to the lineup at second base and went 0 for 2 with a pair of walks and one run scored. In 10 games with the Red Sox entering Wednesday, the 25-year-old was hitting .286/.324/.571 with the only three homers of the season that the Red Sox had received from second basemen. “This guy has done everything we’ve asked him to do,” said Roenicke. “He’s got really good instincts. He’s got good hands. He’s got a good arm. And he swings the bat. He swings it with authority. For a short sample, watching the guy, he’s impressed not just me but all the coaches and [the front office],” Roenicke added. “I don’t know what that means for next year. I think that depends on what happens and who’s available and what we decide to do. [But] I think he’s done everything that he could to impress us with what he does.” . . . Chris Mazza, Tanner Houck, and Nick Pivetta (in that order) will start the final three games of the season in Atlanta over the weekend.