The St. Louis Cardinals will look toward several players to up their offensive game in 2020. However, the key to the overall improvement will lie with Paul DeJong.
Without Marcell Ozuna, the St. Louis Cardinals will be looking for improved offensive performances from several players in 2020. This list includes Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, and even Paul Goldschmidt. But the key to improvement will lie with shortstop Paul DeJong.
The right-handed hitting DeJong will enter 2020 as the likely successor to Marcell Ozuna in the cleanup spot. After all, in his three major league seasons, he has shown the ability to hit for power and drive in runs.
DeJong also has significant experience hitting in the middle of the order. While only batting in the cleanup spot for three games in his career, he has 152 games under his belt at the three-hole and 86 games in the five-spot.
DeJong’s career slash line at the three-hole is .265/.341/.441 with 21 HR and 80 RBI, while at the five-spot, he has a slash line of .226/.294/.470 with 20 HR and 59 RBI. These are promising numbers going into 2020, but there is a need for improvement in some parts of his game if he is going to be the cleanup man for the Cardinals.
Improvement is needed
What the 26-year old needs to improve on is his batting average and OPS, especially from last year. Since DeJong came into the league in 2017, his batting average has dropped every year from .285 to .233 in 2019. At the same time, his OPS has dropped from .857 to .762 and his OPS+ from 121 to 97.
He also needs to improve his situational hitting where he hit a slash line of .193/.297/.277 in 2019 with runners in scoring position, including only hitting one home run with a runner on second or third base.
DeJong recently told Anne Rogers of MLB.com, he is going to simplify his approach to the plate by laying off pitches that are down and away. He hopes by establishing a zone and sticking to it, will help improve his situational hitting.
Where Paul DeJong has improved over his career is lowering his strikeout rate. In 2017, his strikeout rate was 28%, second on the team to Randal Gritchuk’s 30.1%, and well above the league average of 22%.
In 2018, DeJong lowered his strikeout rate to 25.1% but was still second on the team (Harrison Bader 29.3%) and above the league average of 22.7%. However, in 2019, DeJong saw his strikeout rate drop significantly to 22.4 %, just below the league average of 23% and below Paul Goldschmidt who was at 24.3%.
Still, DeJong needs to work at getting his strikeout rate closer to Ozuna’s. Ozuna’s strikeout rate was 17% in 2018 and 20% in 2019 during his tenure in St. Louis.
Consistency is another area where Paul DeJong could improve. The former fourth-round pick is known for his fast starts, but tailing off by the end of the year. He hits a slash line of .269/.340/.473, for the first half of the season, then while during the second half, his line falls to .236/.300/.461. His best month has been April where his career slash line is .311/.368/.575, meanwhile his September career slash line falls off to .239/.308/.446.
Paul DeJong can make this whole lineup better
DeJong is off to a great start in Spring Training. As of Friday, he has a batting average of .500, a SLG of 1.222, and an OPS of 1.722 in 20 plate appearances. This certainly doesn’t mean anything in the regular season, but it’s promising.
If Paul DeJong can return to closer to his 2017 form, then the big bat of Marcell Ozuna will not be missed. However, what we hope for is an even better DeJong than 2017.
I believe DeJong can hit it close to the 30 HR, 90 RBI, and an OPS in the range of .850. Therefore, I don’t think it’s unrealistic for Paul DeJong to become the cleanup hitter that replaces Ozuna’s production. Personally, I think he has the potential to be better than Marcell Ozuna.
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Yes, the Cardinals need some others to pick up their game, but to me, Paul DeJong is the key to the door for a better offense in 2020.