It is clear that Paul DeJong has struggled at the plate this season, and it is clear that his struggles have not helped the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup, which is also struggling. This is certainly not ideal for the team, as DeJong has plenty of pop in his bat, and has been a productive hitter in the past. Edmundo Sosa performed admirably when replacing the injured DeJong, but Sosa is not near peak DeJong at the plate.
Sosa’s .358 OBP is inflated by the nine times that he has been hit by a pitch. His walk rate of just 5.0% suggests that he will not be able to continue getting on base at such a high clip. Additionally, the 25-year-old has limited power. As a result, the Cardinals need DeJong to get right in the box.
There are positive signs for Paul DeJong. To begin with, his .168 BABIP is unsustainable. He has also posted a career high walk rate of 10.1% through his first 168 plate appearances. He also cut his strikeout rate to 23.8%, and his whiff rate to 24.8%, both of which are below his respective career averages. While his plate discipline has recovered, his power has also remained present. The shortstop has eight home runs and a .181 ISO on the season. This is below his .203 career average ISO, and it is a good sign that he has maintained a solid level of power despite struggling to produce.
The negatives with DeJong are his 1st percentile average exit velocity (84.9 mph), and his 28th percentile hard hit rate (36.7%). His inability to consistently hit the ball hard is clearly a detriment. Part of the reason for this is that he is hitting the ball on the ground more than ever. The 27-year-old has posted career high groundball rates and he is topping the ball in over 30% of his results on contact, which is also a career high. This inability to hit the ball squarely is preventing him from getting hits, but it is also preventing him from tapping into his power more often. Another problem is that the increase in his ground ball rate was almost entirely caused by a decrease in his line drive rate. Line drives have the highest expected batting average for hitters, so such a change is not good for DeJong.
Besides hitting more grounballs, DeJong is simply not hitting the ball consistently hard. This is not to say that he is not hitting the ball hard at all, because his 78th percentile barrel rate has helped him hit eight home runs this year. His barrel rate allows him to still add some power to the lineup, but if he could even get more medium contact, as well as more line drives, then he would be able to impact the lineup with more consistency than the occasional home run.
Clearly the problems with DeJong are too many groundballs and not enough hard contact. This may be something that normalizes over the course of the season, but either way, it is clear that DeJong has been unlucky. His BABIP is way too low, and there is a massive gap between his .272 wOBA and .334 xwOBA.
DeJong needs to make some changes to his batted ball profile if he wants to improve his results this season. Even so, his barrelled balls have allowed him to generate value, and should allow him to continue to generate value as the season continues. If he gets some more luck at the plate, he may still be able to be an improved contributor at plate without any changes to his batted ball profile.
Despite his struggles, it is important for the Cardinals to stick with DeJong. Especially when Harrison Bader returns from injury and Tommy Edman can return to second base, it is important that DeJong remains the starter at shortstop and does not cede significant playing time to Edmundo Sosa. Currently, Sosa is playing at or near his peak, while DeJong could not be playing much worse. If DeJong can turn things around, then he will be a major boost to a Cardinals lineup that needs help, while Sosa has helped the team but is limited in terms of potential offensive output.