St. Louis Cardinals: Paul DeJong as Cards’ three-hitter

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 26: Paul DeJong
ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 26: Paul DeJong /

The St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop has certainly impressed out of the three-hole, but is he a viable option for that spot in the line-up long term?

The latest rookie sensation for the St. Louis Cardinals, Paul DeJong, continues to be impressive this season. Over the last month or so, DeJong has been the sole reason the Cardinals are still close in the standings today. While defensively there is some work to be done, DeJong’s offensive numbers continue to be the more impressive facet of his game.

Given the success DeJong is having for the team, I think it’s fair to ask whether DeJong is a viable three-hole hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals in the long-term. Last Thursday, on the Official Redbird Rants podcast, Dr. Miles asked both Nate and I that same question.

I took the question first and answered it very simplistically. The truth of the matter is DeJong is not the three-hitter the Cardinals will go forward with in the long-term. While his success has been nice, he projects. at least to me, as either a fifth or sixth-hitter and as high as a two-hitter. It hard to say otherwise because of his success, by co-contributor Nathan Grime brought up a very excellent point.

"“The only reason Paul DeJong is even in the three-spot is because the Cardinals don’t have a good option there. We have discussed that on the podcast before ad it’s a glaring need for the Cardinals all season.”"

The St. Louis Cardinals projected Matt Carpenter as their three-hitter at the start of the season. By now we know how it’s played out, as Carpenter slid back into the lead-off spot. The Cardinals have tried Stephen Piscotty and even Dexter Fowler at the three-spot. So if it isn’t clear of what the team needs in the future, just look at the carousel at the three-hole.

However, when you look at his numbers out of the three-hole, it certainly does intrigue you. Out of the three spot in the lineup, DeJong is batting .278 with four home runs and ten RBI. His OBP, SLG, and OPS is .328, .500, .828 respectively. Everything there looks great. However, expand that to the season there are a couple of things that stand out to me.

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The first is the number of strike outs so far this season. DeJong has seventy-two strike outs in fifty-nine games played. The second is his walk rate.

In the same fifty-nine games, he has drawn only eight walks.

Of course, if he is hitting the ball well, walks are an afterthought. However, it does show a tendency to be aggressive at the plate.

While being aggressive at the plate isn’t always bad, it would be nice to see him cut down on his strike outs in favor for walks.

A disciplined hitter in the three-hole provides the rest of the lineup a chance to do some damage. If the back-end of the order is doing the damage, then more than likely DeJong will start to see better pitches during his at-bats.

Beyond the surface of his stats this year, I used Fangraphs to see how DeJong compared to other hitters in wRC+. Fangraphs lists wRC+ as a way to credit a hitter for each outcome, rather than treating all hits or times on base equally, while controlling for park effects and the current run environment. It quantifies how many runs a player creates after the above adjustments are made.

Fangraphs also lists a table to compare values for a single hitter:

Above Average75115
Below Average6080

DeJong currently has a wRC+ of 119. According to the table he is the above average department for hitters. To put that into even more perspective for you, Aledmys Diaz has a wRC+ of 78 this season for the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s obvious Diaz is having a down year, but DeJong has posted a score of 119 in twelve fewer games than Diaz. There wouldn’t be any question as to who you would want in your lineup at this point.

What about other three-hitters around the league?

These are just a couple of big names who are three-hitters on their respective teams. I’m not saying DeJong is close to what these guys are, but if we are being realistic, these are the types of numbers you want to see out of your three-hitter. Does DeJong have time to grow? Absolutely. In fact, the reason I wouldn’t want him in the three-hole for the long-term is simply because we just haven’t seen enough.

I know it’s not fair to compare him to the big names from above, but fifty-nine games aren’t enough evidence to sway towards yes. He will barely crack 100 games with the team this year, and even then I won’t commit to any decision. As I said, I expect DeJong to continue to grow as a hitter, but I think there are bigger plans for him come this off-season.

If the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves a true three-hitter, I think there is a realistic expectation DeJong will be in the fifth or sixth spot in the lineup. Given how Mike Matheny manages Yadier Molina as his fifth hitter, maybe DeJong bats clean-up next year.

His pop is surely good enough, there is no denying that. However, he is still refining some hitting skill at this point. The Cardinals need a steady hand at the three-spot so they can use DeJong in another RBI-producing role.

Next: Carpenter continues to feast in KC

DeJong’s performance this season reminds me somewhat of Aledmys Diaz last year. I like the fact Mike Matheny continues to use him the three-hole. He is the Cardinals’ hottest hitter right now and deserves a chance to shine.