The St. Louis Cardinals’ offense has been inconsistent to begin the season, and one player who contributes to this boom or bust cycle of offense is Paul DeJong. Through the first 22 games of the season, DeJong leads the Cardinals in walks and strikeouts and is also tied with Yadier Molina for the team lead in home runs. This emphasis on the three true outcomes has given DeJong a slash line of .183/.301/.394/.696 which is good for a 98 wRC+. This means that despite batting below the Mendoza line, DeJong has been just a slightly below league average hitter.
While it is good that DeJong has hit so many home runs and drawn so many walks, it would be good for both him and the Cardinals’ offense if he could become more consistent. Currently, much of Dejong’s production is driven by power as his .211 ISO is exactly the same as it was in 2019 when he hit 30 home runs. Additionally, 118 points of his .301 OBP in coming from walks. This is a high rate, and it is good that DeJong has been able to walk in over 13% of his plate appearances.
However, his seemingly all-or-nothing approach at the plate is causing his production to be inconsistent, which certainly does not help an offense that is looking to be more consistent. All of DeJong’s home runs have come in just three games, while he has also gone hitless in 10 of his 20 games and failed to reach base entirely in seven of them. Thus, DeJong may have some great games, but he is also prone to a series of games where his production is notably absent.
This has not always been the case for DeJong, though. In his first three years in the league, the shortstop increased his walk rate and decreased his strikeout rate in every season. In the 2019 season, DeJong walked at a rate of 9.3% and struck out at a rate of just 22.4%. In 2020, his walk rate continued to rise, but his strikeout rate also jumped to 28.7%. The 2020 season was shortened due to COVID, so there is a chance that his strikeout rate was just a fluke. However, it has risen a bit thus far in 2021, reaching 28.9%. Unsurprisingly, the 27 year old’s whiff rate has also jumped from 24.2% in 2019 to 31.2% this season.
This is a worrying trend for someone who made consistent contact in 2019 and seemed to be trending towards being the type of hitter who does not rack up strikeouts. This change in 2020, though, and DeJong has continued that trend in 2021.
This boom-or-bust tendency is demonstrated even further when his quality of contact is examined. So far this season, DeJong has a barrel rate of 14.9%. This puts him in the 87th percentile, and is well above the league average of 6.4%. However, according to Baseball Savant, he has also made weak contact on 8.5% of his batted balls, which is well above the league average of 3.6% and also above DeJong’s previous season high of 7.1% in 2017. This has contributed to his 9th percentile average exit velocity of 85.5 mph. For someone who is tied for the team lead in home runs and has such a high barrel rate, it is surprising to see that DeJong’s average exit velocity is so low. However, his propensity for making weak contact when he does not hit home runs has contributed heavily to this.
As a result, if DeJong wants to be more consistent this season, he will need to make more contact and more consistently solid contact. Instead of hitting a few balls really hard and a lot of balls weakly, DeJong needs to make more solid overall contact. This will allow him to more consistently productive in individual games, instead of seeing his production fluctuate so much. This would also allow him to establish himself closer to the heart of the order and would help the Cardinals offense be more of a conistent threat on a day-to-day basis.