Rafael Devers Might Be a Serious Contender For AL MVP

Rafael Devers is having a great season. The offensive tandem of Devers, JD Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Alex Verdugo is the reason why the Red Sox have one of the best records in baseball right now, and sit atop the AL East.

But today I’d like to specifically focus on Devers, because not only is he already having a great season, but he could reach MVP-caliber numbers.

Through 148 plate appearances this season, Devers has an impressive .279/.358/.574 slash line with a .932 OPS, the 10th best OPS out of all AL hitters. He’s also blasted 9 home runs, hit 11 doubles, and drove in 30 runs. Another really positive sign is that Devers is drawing walks more than any other year of his career, as he’s walking in 10.8% of his plate appearances, putting him in the 69th percentile among MLB hitters.

But there are three advanced stats that suggest Devers could be even more dominant than he already has been on offense. The first stat is Devers’ exit velocity, which helps show how hard Devers is hitting the ball. This season, Devers has a very good 92.8 mph average exit velocity, which puts him in the 93rd percentile among MLB hitters. For reference, Devers has a higher average exit velocity than Mike Trout, Freddie Freeman, and Nelson Cruz this season.

Devers’ expected stats, or more specifically expected batting average and expected slugging percentage, have also been very good this season. xBA and xSLG uses exit velocity and launch angle to assign expected batting averages to certain batted balls with similar exit velocities and launch angles, to show what a result likely should have been.

Devers’ expected batting average is .313, .34 better than his actual batting average, and his expected slugging percentage is .634, .60 better than his actual slugging percentage. Only Bryce Harper, Ronald Acuna, and Byron Buxton have had a better xSLG this season, and his .313 xBA ranks in the 94th percentile among MLB hitters.

This doesn’t mean that Devers’ is 100% going to live up to those expected stats, but it does show that he’s hitting the ball well even if it doesn’t always result in a good outcome, and that he might start getting more favorable results very soon.

The last stat is Devers’ barrel percentage. MLB’s Statcast defines a barreled ball as “a batted ball with the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle”, and it helps to show how often a player is hitting the barrel of the bat and making good contact. Devers has barreled the ball in an incredible 19.8% of his batted ball events; only Brandon Belt, Shohei Ohtani, Trout, and Harper have a better barrel rate out of 145 qualified hitters!

Devers has been making great contact with the ball and hitting the ball hard all season long, so we might start to see his stats look even better than they already have been. I think we’re going to see some massive power displayed from Devers too, and that’s going to equal more extra-base hits, more home runs, and a higher SLG% and OPS. And we’re already seeing him draw walks more than he ever has before.

That’s why Devers is a dark horse candidate to walk away with the AL MVP award this season. It’s hard to say he’s 100% the pick to win it when he plays in the same league as Mike Trout, and his tendency to chase a lot of pitches nor his average defense doesn’t help his case either. But he could give Trout some tough competition for the award.

Photo Credit: Boston Herald

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