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Making sense of Gerrit Cole’s struggles against Rafael Devers

Devers’ swing is better suited than anybody else to hit Gerrit Cole.

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Every pitcher has a hitter through the course of their career that they just can’t seem to get out. CC Sabathia had Evan Longoria. Mariano Rivera had Edgar Martinez. Even Hall-of-fame players have the guy that sees their pitches as beach balls.

Do I even need to say it? Rafael Devers is that guy for Gerrit Cole. The last two seasons have been concrete proof of that.

I’m sure you’ve heard already after this weekend, but Devers has tanked Cole for six home runs in his 25 plate appearances against him, the most Cole has given up to any hitter. The overall slash line is .304/.360/1.087. So, it’s not like he has gotten a hit every time, but when they come, they go far. They’ve traveled for an average of 413 feet to be exact. Six home runs out of seven at-bats. Nobody has had comparable success against Cole. That’s not too shocking considering he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball for about five years now.

As a pitcher, this is one of those mind-boggling situations where you just simply cannot comprehend what is happening. As Cole has said, it would be nice if Devers was kind enough to just hit a double into the gap from time to time, rather than a 400-foot tank job. But that hasn’t been the case thus far. It’s been a steady dose of two and three-run home runs! Not even a single solo home run. It’s been maximum damage. 15 runs batted in on six home runs.

Why has this happened, though? Is Devers just punishing mistakes? Is he hitting everything no matter where it’s pitched? Well, it’s a combination of both really. While Cole can often get away with mistakes with his four-seam due to his combination of high velocity, vertical approach angle, and spin efficiency, Devers isn’t a player who is necessarily fazed by this if the pitch is in a hittable zone. He has a flat and very adjustable swing path to go along with one of the quickest triggers in all of baseball.

Devers ranks seventh in baseball since 2020 in extra-base hits against four-seam fastballs with a spin rate of at least 2300. Similarly, Devers is tied for first with José Ramirez since 2020 on extra-base hits against four-seam fastballs with a velocity of 97 mph of higher. Basically, Devers is one of, if not the best, at hitting the league’s top fastballs in terms of velocity or spin rate. The combination of both makes him the most ideal hitter to face Gerrit Cole. I know that’s a lot of very niche stats, but it helps us understand why and how Devers has so much success against Cole.

These are not bad pitches, not at 99 mph. You can get away with this against other hitters. But not Devers.

This third one is just a freaky good swing from one of the best fastball hitters. Cole misses his spot, but his fastball still ends up in on the hands of Devers, on the inside corner and at the top of the zone. This is one of those throw the hands in the air and tip your cap moments. Unfortunately, this can be said a few times for Cole against Devers. The other three home runs came against two changeups on the border or outside of the zone, and a slider also diving out of the zone.

What do we take away from this then? Devers is probably the best-suited hitter in baseball to face Gerrit Cole. He’s a lefty with a quick trigger and mega bat speed who can cover the entire plate. He hits 80-grade fastballs better than anybody in baseball, and can also adjust his bat path to off-speed pitches while maintaining power.

With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if Devers’ success against Cole will always be better than the rest of the league. I know that’s sad to hear, but if anybody can do it, apparently, it’s Devers.