The St. Louis Cardinals need more offensive consistency and one easy way to get it is to get more from Paul DeJong. Thankfully, he’s slowly coming around.
It’s been well documented that 2021 is a big year for the future of St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Paul DeJong. He’s shown multiple different versions of the player he can be over the past few years, but it’s time for the 27-year-old to hit his stride.
Though DeJong is under contract through 2023 (with two team options after that), the 2022 shortstop class of free agency is flush with options. DeJong owns a career 105 wRC+, but has flashed more. He’s almost always hit for power but he’s always struggled for offensive consistency over an entire season.
To start the year, DeJong was placed in the cleanup spot by manager Mike Shildt with very poor results. After eight games, DeJong was dropped in the order for the red hot Yadier Molina. Slowly though, it looks like DeJong is starting to wake up at the plate.
The .278/.350/.778 slash line is buoyed by Monday’s two-homer game against the Nationals, but all of the sudden, DeJong’s last week is showing a heartbeat.
The story for DeJong has always been his approach at the plate. The drum I beat almost endlessly from 2017 when he came up through 2019 was that DeJong had three straight years of lowering his strikeout rate while raising his walk rate.
Contracting COVID-19 and the short season as a whole in 2020 ruined that trend in the strikeout rate department, but early returns on DeJong are interesting. His walk rate is up from 9.8% last season (which was up from 9.3% in 2019) to 13.4%. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate currently sits at 32.8% though.
Part of DeJong’s struggles in 2021 have been from pitchers attacking him in a similar way. Fastballs down and in mixed with sliders low and away have made the right-handed hitter look silly at the plate often times this year.
Like a lot of the offense, DeJong has suffered from some batted ball unluckiness this year, but it is still 16 games in. Despite his spot in the batting order on Wednesday, DeJong has not looked like a cleanup hitter this year so far. However, his slash line from the past five games definitely does.
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With how the Cardinals lineup is currently being utilized, it’s not super surprising to see DeJong back at cleanup with Yadi getting the day off Wednesday. DeJong’s wRC+ is back to above average at 106 and he’s currently leading the team with five homers.
Early in the season, it’s so hard to tell what is believable and what is going to stabilize. With so many ways to analyze the game now and so many eager eyes looking to judge, it can be hard to see through the noise. It’s important to remember that the Cardinals have barely played half a month’s worth of games.
If a player has a bad two-week stretch in the middle of June, nobody would cry wolf. This early in the season it shouldn’t be any different. Truthfully, if you take out the last five games where DeJong has improved, it was just 11 bad games at the start of the year. And hey, if you’re into nitpicking negative things, I’ll nitpick positives. In the past five games, DeJong’s strikeout percentage has dropped to 30%. That still isn’t great, but improvement is improvement.
It’s easy to remember the bad and discount the good when it comes to the irrational mind of a fan. However, DeJong has shown true signs of waking up at the plate even if he shouldn’t be batting cleanup right now.