You watch the Cardinals, so you know this, but Paul DeJong is completely ridiculous this year. For one thing, it’s late June and he’s one of the five or so best players in baseball by WAR. Raise your hand if you saw that coming, then lower your hand if you just lied. Yeah, I guess that leaves none of us. In any case, though, I’m not here to break that particular fact down. Many VEB’ers have already, and as much fun as it is to talk about someone just getting better at every aspect of their craft, that’s not why I’m here today. I’m here today because of another thing you probably know -- Paul DeJong might be one of the best players in baseball, but he’s hit like Babe Ruth against the Mets. Two and a half seasons into his career, he’s doing something no other Cardinal, or indeed other baseball player, has ever done to the Queens club.
Take a look at the players with the highest OPS against the Mets in their career with a minimum of 85 PA. Obviously, since he’s the focus of this article, DeJong tops the list.
Best Hitters Against the Mets
When the Mets broadcast mentioned that DeJong had a higher OPS against the Mets than Musial or McGwire, I thought that was just idle talk. Nope, turns out those three Cardinals are the best three batters against the Mets, period, of all time. Daniel Murphy’s 1.109 OPS in basically double the plate appearances is also amazing -- I knew that Murphy hit well against his former team, but wow. What’s even more amazing about this fact, though, is that Paul DeJong is, well, Paul DeJong. No one should be surprised to see McGwire or Musial atop a list of best OPS’s against a team. They had high OPS’s against every team, after all. It’s mildly surprising that Musial played against the Mets, but he did in 1962 and 1963. DeJong is a better-than-league-average bat, but he’s not Stan freaking Musial.
Let’s look at this list again, this time using one of Baseball Reference’s goofy toys, tOPS+. This arcanely named statistic measures a player’s performance in a given split relative to their overall stats. If DeJong had a 1.000 OPS overall and a 1.200 OPS against the Mets, in other words, he’d have a 120 tOPS+. DeJong obviously doesn’t have a 1.000 OPS overall, though. Here’s that list:
Hitters Who Step Up Against the Mets
Not only is DeJong the best hitter against the Mets of all time, he’s the hitter who has raised his game the most against the Mets. This list is more what we want -- when you think of a guy who kills a team, Stan Musial isn’t where your brain should go. He just kills every team. It’s Hernan Perez muscling up from benchwarmer to .900 OPS beast. DeJong is somehow both of these, though. He’s a career 116 wRC+ hitter, already far (far far far) better than the offensive bar for shortstop. Even from that high bar, he improves by the most. It’s obviously not predictive or anything, but you have to imagine DeJong enjoys his annual trip to Queens.
DeJong’s performance was so singular that it got me thinking about the best performances that Cardinals have had against any team. This is all a goofy stat with no predictive value, of course, but it’s still pretty cool to see historical things happening today. This next list, which is the best Card-batter-vs-single-team lines of all time, is going to blow your mind. Let me put it this way: you might think you remember how good Mark McGwire was on the Cardinals, but you don’t remember how good Mark McGwire was on the Cardinals.
Best Cardinals vs. Anyone
|Mark McGwire||Florida Marlins||1.431|
|Mark McGwire||San Diego Padres||1.388|
|Mark McGwire||Colorado Rockies||1.3|
|Mark McGwire||Chicago Cubs||1.285|
|Mark McGwire||San Francisco Giants||1.229|
|Paul DeJong||New York Mets||1.2|
|Stan Musial||New York Mets||1.198|
|Mark McGwire||Philadelphia Phillies||1.183|
|Chick Hafey||Philadelphia Phillies||1.182|
|Albert Pujols||Washington Nationals||1.178|
Sweet Jiminy Christmas! My favorite of these is McGwire against the Cubs. He had a 1.285 OPS despite a .272 batting average against them! That’s a lot of walks and home runs.
Okay, so DeJong isn’t actually historic. Getting to see only this slice of McGwire’s career (it’s only games on the Cardinals, so his good but not world-conquering A’s seasons are excluded) is pretty bonkers, and the fact that DeJong is right up there is downright impressive. There aren’t any bad players on this list -- if you haven’t heard of Chick Hafey, he was a slugging outfielder from the 1920’s. You don’t get to a DeJong-ian OPS without being a good hitter, because baseball has its limits. They say any hitter can do anything for a month, but that apparently doesn’t extend to ungodly high OPS’s against the same team over a long period of time.
This trip down memory lane, for the most part, doesn’t matter. The Cardinals are kind of blah so far this year, despite DeJong’s best efforts, and nothing about how well he’s done against the Mets presages anything about the future. Honestly, though, I’m fine with that. Not all of baseball has to be predicting what someone will do next. The past is one of baseball’s great resources -- anything a player does today can be compared to something a player did 100 years ago. In fifteen years, some of the things I think of as groundbreaking analytical resources (pitch tunneling! Spin axis! Barrel rate!) will be deprecated. OPS, though, is going to be OPS.
Sadly, Paul DeJong almost certainly won’t keep this pace up. He’s done playing the Mets this year, but there’s 2020 to think about, and 2021 after that. Even if you’re a crazy DeJong believer, you aren’t pegging him for a 1.2 OPS against any team, much less a team headlined by Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Still, for the moment, Paul DeJong is historical. That’s pretty neat for a guy who was pure Devil Magic only a few years ago.
A random side note: in researching this piece, I learned about one of the most bizarre shortstop seasons I’ve ever seen. Bill Keister played shortstop for the Orioles in 1901 and hit .328/.365/.482 in 115 games. That sounds like a completely insane offensive line, but due to the high offense of the era, it was only 22% better than league average. That’s not the amazing part, though. Keister committed NINETY SEVEN errors in those 115 games. His fielding percentage was a woeful .851. He led the league in errors by 21 errors. Despite being in his prime (he was 30 that season) and, again, hitting .328 in the days where batting average was king, that was it. He played only two more games at shortstop in his career.
A second random side note: What the heck, we’re here. What about the worst Cardinals careers against specific teams? This takes a little more doing, because most of the worst lines come from pitchers. After stripping out pitchers, though, here are the worst 10 Cardinals splits against single teams:
Worst Cardinals vs. Anyone
|Jack Bliss||Chicago Cubs||0.325|
|Zinn Beck||Chicago Cubs||0.344|
|Cliff Heathcote||New York Giants||0.378|
|Tony Pena||San Francisco Giants||0.387|
|Chappy Charles||Philadelphia Phillies||0.393|
|Mike Ramsey||Philadelphia Phillies||0.41|
|Bobby Byrne||New York Giants||0.416|
|Cozy Dolan||Chicago Cubs||0.418|
|Jerry Buchek||Chicago Cubs||0.424|
|Pete Kozma||Pittsburgh Pirates||0.426|
Did we need this list? Most definitely not. Still, when I saw that Kozma snuck into 10th, I had to throw it in here somewhere. The good news is, most of these players played in the early 1900s, because imagine batters doing significantly worse than the worst Pete Kozma ever did, and that’s a recipe for some tough baseball.