The St. Louis Cardinals have quietly been getting a ton of production from Paul DeJong. Just how good has DeJong been in 2020?
By all accounts, 2020 was an interesting year for St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop, Paul DeJong. On one hand, he hit 30 homers and was among the top shortstops in the league defensively. On the other hand, he hit just .233 with an OPS below .800.
The lacking numbers were, in part, because of DeJong’s .259 BABIP, but that was also a result of his 87.1 MPH average exit velocity. It was a strang year, but it was also a year where the then 25-year-old continued a three-year trend of dropping his strikeout rate and raising his walk rate.
With this ever-improving plate approach, expectations were high for 2020. DeJong then was among the players who tested positive for COVID-19. That kept him out until August 23rd.
In the two-plus weeks since DeJong returned though, he has been on fire while mostly batting in the fifth spot in the lineup.
Since August 23rd, DeJong has played in 15 games, driving in 12 runs on the back of a .333/.391/.491 slash line. He has three doubles and two homers as well. This hot streak has risen his wRC+ to 133 on the year too. While DeJong has walked six times and struck out 15 times, he’s providing some much-needed firepower in this lineup.
Looking deeper into DeJong’s peripherals, there is a chance he has gotten slightly lucky to this point. His expected batting average is just .260 and his expected slugging is just .477. To find the story behind this difference, let’s look in a few places. First, his .400 BABIP is well above average, but so is his 91.6 mph average exit velocity, 9.4 barrel percentage, 37.3% line drive percentage, and 43.4% hard hit rate.
Those are a lot of numbers, but you can boil it down to this: DeJong is hitting the snot out of the ball and has been making his own luck.
All of the expected numbers are descriptive, not predictive. What will happen with DeJong going forward, nobody knows. Regression to the mean is a part of everything in life, so it will be tough for DeJong to keep that .400 BABIP for too long, but if he keeps hitting the ball as hard as he is now, there’s no reason he can’t keep getting lucky.
One way DeJong has been capitalizing to this point has been his Meatball Swing percentage. First, what the heck is a meatball? Finding Baseball Savant’s exact definition hasn’t been fruitful, but the main gist I’m getting is that it is basically any ball in the upper two-thirds of the plate that is also in the middle third of the plate.
The MLB average for these pitches is 7.2%. To this point, DeJong has gotten 10.2% meatballs. Around the league, batters swing at meatballs 75.1% of the time. For DeJong, he has swing 84.4% of the time. Put those two together, and that means that he is getting more mistakes and swinging at them more often than the rest of the MLB and more than he ever has in his career.
This might bring his stats down some when pitchers finally realize they shouldn’t throw him meatballs, but you can’t do anything other than applaud DeJong for hitting mistakes when he’s given them.
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If DeJong can keep hitting hard line drives as much as he is right now, there’s little reason to think he won’t keep this production up. He can’t control what pitches he’s being thrown, but if he can just drop his 26% strikeout rate a little, DeJong will keep maturing into one of the best offensive shortstops in the league.