The MLB’s Learning Curve Personified

The great Ted Williams once famously said that, “The hardest thing to do in all of sports, without question, is to hit a baseball.” If you really think about how difficult connecting a round bat with a round ball perfectly enough to send it out for a hit really is, you can’t argue with Teddy Ballgame. But hitting at a Major League level is so much more than simply bat-to-ball mechanics. Just ask Rafael Devers.

Devers ended 2017 as one of the more highly regarded rookies in the game. He hit .284 with 10 HR and 30 RBI in only 58 games. And while he wasn’t necessarily expected to improve upon those numbers, considering he’s still only 21-years old and in the middle of just his 4th year in the United States, a regression of the magnitude that he’s experienced so far this year was certainly not anticipated. To quantify the reason for such a steep drop off, especially within the last month or so, take a look at the graphic below.

(Photo credit: Fangraphs)

That graphic is tracking Devers’ OBP vs. his swing rate on pitches out of the zone. As you can see, he began 2018 pretty disciplined, swinging at out-of-zone pitches at about the MLB average. In the last 15 games, though, that swing rate has spiked all the way up to over 50%, and his OBP has fallen in conjunction.

Devers’ overzealousness at the plate is simply just part of learning how to be an MLB hitter. MLB pitchers are really good, and they have loads of information at the disposal. As they see him more and more often, his scouting report grows, and right now his scouting report says that he lacks discipline at the plate. As time goes on and Devers continues to work closely with his coaches and teammates, though, he’ll learn how to be more selective with his swings. He’ll begin to be able to lay off of those high fastballs out of the zone that he seems to love, and instead wait for a pitch that’s more within his ideal hitting zone.

Despite his slower start to the season, all is not lost for the young 3rd baseman. He still has the potential to become one of the best hitters in the game and a cornerstone of the Red Sox franchise. Be patient, Red Sox Nation.

(Header photo credit: Beyond the Box Score)

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