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Believing in Paul DeJong

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DeJong is a somewhat divisive player, but I think there’s reason to believe in him

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

In the top of the 6th in the first game of the doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs last Friday, Edmundo Sosa got hit by a pitch. It seemed to hit his right-hand wrist and he immediately ran into the dugout upon being hit. Despite the rather concerning nature of how he left the game, evidently he will only miss 3-5 days. In other words, theoretically he could be in the lineup tomorrow. I don’t expect him to be though. Probably just give him all five days.

In his place is a familiar face, Paul DeJong. DeJong has had a rough season, following a rough two months last year. In the 3 games plus one plate appearance in the game Sosa needed to leave, DeJong has a 140 wRC+, mostly because he’s hit two homers in that span. It’s essentially the same verson of him we’ve seen all year, with a low OBP and power whenever he does get a hit. Only, you know, not at a rate of two homers per three games.

As maybe one of the few DeJong defenders on this site and probably in Cardinal fandom in general at this point, there are two main differences I have with the DeJong non-believers, as we’ll call them. And honestly, I can see their point. I just disagree with it. DeJong has a low BABIP. DeJong non-believers think it’s deserved and will continue. DeJong’s defense has wildly different numbers depending on what source you use.

Let’s address the latter. Statcast is the site that is most pessimistic on DeJong’s defense and looking at the numbers myself, it seems a bit overstated? Like they are not elite numbers like UZR, but they are nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. Over his five seasons in the majors, he’s been worth a combined -11 runs at SS, which is -2.2 per season. Most of that is in his first two seasons, when he was worth -18 runs. Since 2019, he’s been +7 runs. I’m more of a believer in career numbers, so if I were to take Statcast as gospel, I’d use the -2 number.

UZR has him as a +7 fielder per 150 games. And DRS, Baseball-Reference’s choice for defense, has him as worth +35 runs over his career, which is actually even better than UZR. That’s +10 per 150 games. I’m honestly not a big believer in DRS myself, so I’m not going to be a hypocrite to support my point. Anyway, I think it’s probably reasonable to take the middle ground here and just call him an average defensive shortstop. He’s close enough to average by Statcast anyway,

Now on the offensive side, I don’t necessarily disagree with those that say he deserves a low BABIP. Where I disagree is that it will continue. DeJong is a low BABIP player, that much is certain. What he is almost assuredly not is a true talent .216 BABIP hitter. Nobody is, except pitchers I guess. Even Matt Carpenter has a .261 BABIP. I really, really doubt 28-year-old Paul DeJong is a .218 BABIP hitter.

And even the stats that say he deserves the low BABIP agree. They think he has been mildly unlucky this season. Not significantly, which is something you’d hope for when his line is what it is. But still unlucky. His xBA is .207 and his xSLUG is .405. That all comes to an xW0BA of .309. That’s fairly close to be an average hitter. You must be thinking his xWOBA is always better than his wOBA. But his career wOBA is .317 and his career xWOBA is .312. That’s not a big enough difference to say his wOBA should be higher than his xWOBA this year, but it’s enough to make me say his xWOBA is probably what his line “should” be.

So even given how he’s performed this year, he’s somewhere between a 90 and 100 wRC+ probably around 93 or 94 if his xWOBA was his actual wOBA. And I simply do not believe just because he’s hit mostly weak contact means that will continue. DeJong is a streaky hitter and just a week where he sees the ball like it’s a beach ball would drastically affect these numbers. Stranger things have happened. And that’s the crux of why I do not think his true talent BABIP is .218 or .230 or even .240. He has a career .283 BABIP, and let’s say given the way this stat is trending, his “true talent BABIP” is actually .270. He’d have at least an average line if he had a .270 BABIP right now.

It’s honestly just hard for me to look at his age, look at his plate discipline numbers - which include a high walk rate and a K rate hovering around his career average - and see his ISO fairly close to his career average - and yet think suddenly he has lost 60 points of BABIP and that’s who he is now. Sorry, I just don’t see it.

So to me, he seems like an essentially league average hitter and a league average defender and what do you know, he’s doing both of those things at short. And while that sounds like an incredibly boring player - and frustrating given his streaks - would you believe that an average defender at short and an average hitter at short equals out to a 2.8 WAR player over 600 PAs? Positional adjustments baby! Which makes sense! Inserting Stastcast’s defensive numbers into his WAR instead of UZR makes him a 2.6 WAR player per 600 PAs in his career. Certainly not as exciting as the 3.5 fWAR player Fangraphs has him has, but still somebody the Cards should have zero issues starting.

So no, I do not think it’s an offseason priority to trade DeJong. I’m not even sure he’s worse than Sosa to be honest. I think the good version of Sosa, the starter version that is, will probably be about a 90 wRC+ hitter. I kind of don’t believe in his bat, at least relative to how he’s played. He has a talent for getting hit but it seems unlikely it’ll be the 32 times per 600 PA pace he has now. And I would honestly be surprised if his BABIP isn’t lower than his current .329 BABIP. But the defense is legit. And sometimes that’s enough, even with a weak bat.

So I’m not completely bought into Sosa, the starter. And DeJong certainly comes with question marks of his own. But take the two players together and I really think the Cards have a good shot of getting above average production at shortstop next year. Now, if someone wants to give fair value for DeJong, which I personally doubt, then feel free to trade him. I just don’t want to trade him for the sake of trading him. Sosa/Edman as your middle infield with Gorman factoring in there sometime is not a terrible plan, it just has a lot more downside than if DeJong is also a part of the conversation. Gorman has a fair amount of downside in his first year in the big leagues. DeJong is at worst a security blanket, at best the player we thought we had a couple years ago.

Plus, with the way this year is going, can’t you just feel Paul DeJong, postseason hero coming? It just feels right. (I am not suggesting starting him over Sosa this year, obviously DeJong may never have the opportunities to become a postseason hero)