So I guess it’s officially Paul DeJong week here at VEB, with Tyler Kinzy writing yesterday about DeJong’s eye-popping stats so far this season. I’m going to keep the theme going today, but broaden it to look across Pauly D’s entire career. Here’s my premise:
Paul DeJong might well be the best shortstop in the National League.
At first blush, even to me, that sounds like something a Cardinals Blog would use as a headline to get clicks. But folks, it also just might be true.
If you head over to the Baseball Reference Play Index and search for the highest WAR among shortstops since DeJong entered the league in 2017, limiting your search to guys who are full-time shortstops (90% of games at the position), you’ll find DeJong’s 7.4 WAR ranks 2nd in the NL.
The only player ahead of him is Trevor Story, at 8.5 WAR. Of course, Story has been a full-time player for that entire stretch, whereas DeJong was called up midway through 2017. If you slice the numbers up to calculate WAR/600 PAs, you’ll find Story with 3.98, DeJong with 4.41.
It’s worth noting that calculation does not include Javy Baez, and sure, Baez may well be better than DeJong. He certainly turned in an MVP-calibre season last year, and he seems cemented at shortstop this season. Even so, for his career, Baez sports only a 103 wRC+ to DeJong’s 115, and despite what national broadcasters seem to believe is a plus-plus tagging skill, Baez UZR numbers at short are slightly negative over his career, while DeJong is very much in the positive.
I don’t really care to split hairs any further than that to determine exactly where DeJong rates among his peers. He really might be the best shortstop in the National League. Or he might be something like #2 or #3. But the point is, he’s really good - better than most folks, even Cardinal fans, realize.
Just how underrated is DeJong?
MLB Network produces an annual “Top 10 Right Now” at each position in the league. Using their “Shredder,” which compiles a list based only on numbers, DeJong ranked #8 in all of baseball, behind only Story and Corey Seager.
But among their panel of experts, consisting of Brian Kenny, Mike Petriello, Ben Lindbergh, Vince Gennaro and (sigh) Harold Reynolds, only Kenny ranked DeJong among the Top 10... at #10. And it’s not like flying under the radar is something new for DeJong.
Entering 2017 - the season when DeJong would announce his presence with authority and finish 2nd in the Rookie of the Year voting - DeJong was ranked the Cardinals 10th best prospect by John Sickels. He was outside the Baseball Prospectus Top 10, though they did acknowledge “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was changing corner dudes into shortstops.”
Our own Prospect Guru, Aaron Schafer, ranked DeJong #11 in the system heading into 2017. He guessed DeJong’s recent move to SS after playing 3B and even as a Catcher in college was intended just go give him positional versatility. “But, if there’s any real chance at all he could play even a passable, slightly below-average shortstop every day, then he immediately becomes a very different kind of prospect....” Schaffer said. And he was right.
Why is Paul DeJong consistently underrated? I think this picture tells the story.
That was taken this spring, as DeJong, Wong and Bader walked into the Cardinals complex. Let’s be honest, it looks like two elite athletes and maybe one guy from the marketing department who won a contest and gets to shag flyballs. Or, as others remarked...
We’re nearly 20-years post-Moneyball and the notion that “we’re not selling jeans here.” In an era of StatCast, I think most of us believe that we’ve moved beyond grading players by “the eye test,” but is there any other explanation for the continued underestimation of Paul DeJong?