St. Louis Cardinals: Paul DeJong is making his own case for MVP

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 20: Paul DeJong #12 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a double in the third inning against the New York Mets at Busch Stadium on April 20, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas /Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 20: Paul DeJong #12 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a double in the third inning against the New York Mets at Busch Stadium on April 20, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas /Getty Images) /

He may not yet be a household name, but St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong looks prone to leap onto the national spotlight. The third-year player from Antioch, Illinois has yet to spend a full season healthy and in the big leagues. But 2019 just might end up being his first MVP season.

When the St. Louis Cardinals traded for perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt last December, most observers assumed he’d be batting in the heart of the lineup. But when he came out to speak with the media during winter meetings, manager Mike Shildt made clear his intention to bat Goldy in the number two spot behind Matt Carpenter.

It was a move that bucks against tradition where a team most prolific hitter bats third in the lineup, but putting your best hitter in the two spot is a growing trend around MLB. That left an opening for a number three hitter, but Shildt made it clear as far back as December that he knew who he wanted that spot – shortstop Paul DeJong.

While DeJong has shown flashes of pop with the bat over his first few seasons, there were plenty of questions about where it would work. With the first month of the season nearly complete, you’d be hard pressed to find any signs of those skeptics.

Through the first twenty plus days of the season, DeJong has put up MVP caliber numbers and the Cardinals are sitting in first place of the NL Central.

DeJong‘s 2019 slash line gives a quick view of how hot he‘s been through the first 23 games of the season. But this simple view doesn‘t really give an appreciation for how good he‘s been.

WAR (Wins Above Replacement) has long been held as the gold standard for the sabermetric community. True stat nerds in baseball love to talk about a player‘s WAR as it relates to a player‘s true value. The problem is that WAR is one of the measures that is really only accurate after a full season of data.

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Trying to pull too much significance from the standard WAR number in the middle of a season (or even worse, with only 23 games) is fruitless. But by focusing on Wins Above Average (waaWL%) the science of sabermetrics really begins to show us something.

DeJong’s current waaWL% is 0.560. That means if we put DeJong on a team full of average MLB players (not so-called “scrubs” or “replacements”) his current statistical performance would be good enough for the team to win at a.560 clip.

That‘s between 90-91 wins over a 162 game season assuming he’s the best player on an average team. 

Statistically, that’s one player making an average team a playoff team. If that‘s not worthy of MVP talk, I don’t know what is. Obviously, the Cardinals are not an average team but one loaded with talent. That doesn‘t reduce the impact or importance of DeJong‘s production. One could argue that his production is added by the having talented players around him (in the lineup and in the field) but when has that ever cost somebody an MVP award?

While some will give DeJong credit for being a good hitter, few seem to note his defense. Playing what is arguably the most difficult position on the field, DeJong is exceptional with the glove.

Not convinced? Check out his defensive numbers below:

DeJong is well above the league average in several key statistical areas: standard fielding percentage (Fld% vs. lgFld%) and range factor per nine innings (RF/9 vs. lgRF9). Simply stated, DeJong is getting to more balls in play than the average MLB shortstop and he’s making few mistakes when does so.

One of the most common arguments against a player being an MVP candidate is that someone else is more deserving. This seems like a better after the fact argument than one to have during the season, but just for fun let‘s entertain this line of thinking with some good old fashioned numbers

Here is Milwaukee Brewers’ right fielder Christian Yelich’s stats through 25 games this season:

Yelich has been a beast, no doubt. And as someone who follows the Cardinals, I’ve seen firsthand the damage he‘s done with the bat in 2019. But what happens when we dig a little deeper in the numbers?

Again solid numbers and worthy of early MVP chatter. Yelich currently owns a WAR of 1.7 which is identical to DeJong. But like I said earlier, that stat is highly flawed when measured in season.

Looking closer at the waaWL% we find Yelich at .523 (remember DeJong was at .560). It’s impossible to do direct comparisons on their fielding since Yelich and DeJong play different positions. But common baseball logic tells us our shortstop is a more critical fielder than whoever plays in right.

DeJong isn‘t just outperforming the 2018 NL MVP, he‘s off to a historically good start.

If all of this isn‘t good enough to put you on the Paul DeJong for MVP bandwagon, let me introduce you to someone you might not remember. His name was Zoilo Versalles. He was a member of the 1965 American League pennant-winning Minnesota Twins. His primary position was shortstop and during the ‘65 season, Versalles led the league in doubles (45), triples (12), total bases (308) and runs scored (126). He was an All-Star that year and won the gold glove.

And in 1965, Zoilo Versalles won the AL MVP. His WAR for the 1965 season was 7.2.

Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong is currently on pace to finish the 2019 season with a WAR of 7.2.

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Even though national media will undoubtedly keep their spotlight on bigger name players, Cardinals Nation will faithfully pull for our own 2019 MVP candidate and remember Zoilo Versalles.