Balance of Power: Paul DeJong’s Intriguing Season

Balance of Power: Paul DeJong’s Intriguing Season

The last time we spoke about St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Paul DeJong was about three weeks ago. I preached that everyone should remain cautiously optimistic about the young shortstop.

Since then, it is as if Paul read my piece and decided that he would like to remove the word, “cautiously” from the equation and minds of St. Louis Cardinals‘ fans alike by improving his plate discipline.

The last few weeks have brought on a lot of chatter about the improvements Paul DeJong has made in his plate approach. It is certainly noticeable and noteworthy. He is obviously taking more walks and striking out less, easing the minds of many across Cardinal nation, but as his discipline has improved, I feel like I am sitting in a corner alone saying, “Where did the bombs go?”

Yes, he hit a rocket the other day in San Diego, but lets face it, the first half of that game was basically extended batting practice. Today, I am going to seperate Paul’s numbers from the time I published my first article which was April 24th, it is around the time we started seeing the adjustments he made and it is roughly same amount of plate appearances before and after.

All Downhill From Here

A few weeks ago we talked about plate discipline, pitcher handedness, and DeJong’s ability to put the ball in play as well as a few other topics. Today, we revisit a few of those and examine his value both pre and post adjustment. We will also touch on the intelligence of DeJong both on and of the field, which I feel is what could make him an asset for years to come on this team.

Being able to enjoy watching this young man play kind of depends on the type of player you prefer. All around, he has been a well above average player. According to baseball-reference, he has already posted a 1.7 WAR this season, good for best on the team. Fangraphs has it at 1.4, second to only Tommy Pham who is at 1.8.

His defense, while it doesn’t get a lot of love, is pretty efficient. His DRS is 4 and UZR is 1.5. Both are solid numbers at this point in the season. The primary focus of this follow up is whether DeJong was better before or after the adjustment, and as I said, and as you will see, that may come down to just what type of player you prefer.

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Laying Off

Pre article, in 83 plate appearances, very obviously Paul was striking out a lot, a very high 37.3% of the time and only walking 6% of the time. In the time since, in 75 PA, he has only struck out 22.5% and walked 10.7% of the time. Pretty large improvements in plate discipline.

Below are heatmaps for his swing % both pre and post adjustment. As you can see in the graph on top and as pointed out in my previous article, he had a serious issue with pitches down and in. In the chart on the bottom, note the ability to lay off of those pitches down and in out of the zone. He has also improved his eye on the outer half of the plate, swinging more at strikes on the outer third of the strike zone.

Pre-Adjustment

Post-Adjustment

Improvements…or are they?

Through his first 83 PA, Paul had seven HR, 13 RBI, and scored 12 runs, all while striking out 31 times and only walking five. He slugged .571, his OPS was .885, his wOBA .370, and his wRC+ 137. As you can see, other than the strikeouts and walks, most of his numbers both counting and predictive stats, are well above average.

In the 75 plate appearances since, as I said, his K% and BB% have both vastly improved, but check out many of the same stats and metrics in that time: One home run, five RBI, and nine runs scored. His slugging pct. fell off a cliff and sits at .375 and his OPS to .748. His wOBA and wRC+ to .338 and 115.

Only his K%, BB%, and OBP have improved since the adjustment was made. This basically leads to the, “What type of player do you prefer?” question, quite honestly, unless the plan is to move him into the top half of the lineup, I think I prefer pre adjustment Paul. The question I would pose to the man himself is, can you continue this type of discipline and not lose power?

The Scientific Method

Well, that is where his intelligence may come into play. As many of us sat through a painfully uneventful segment of Winter Meetings on MLB network, you may have caught an experiment that Paul was doing with Dr. Lawrence Rocks. He spent the winter trying to figure out the optimal temperature to hit baseballs at, as he passed on medical school to play baseball, this was somehow not surprising for the young shortstop.

This experiment, though unconventional, only shows me the intelligence and passion that he carries for this game. Coupled with the improvements he made in the latter months of last season, and improvement in plate discipline early in this season, I fully believe that Paul is capable of figuring out how to ramp the power back up, while not sacrificing his new found discipline.

None of Paul’s statcast data has ever really popped off the screen, but this season, only Jose Martinez has barreled more balls than DeJong. Jose has 12, while DeJong and Marcell Ozuna both have 11. Not bad company at all. He is also tops on the team with 11.8 Brls/BBE, which in english should mean, he’s hitting the ball hard pretty often, or at least more often than most of his teammates. Tommy Pham is second with 11.4.

Consistent Contact

His swing % has remained roughly the same all season, while his contact % has gradually risen all season, which seems like a good sign. However, when put side by side with his hard contact %, FB(FlyBall%), and Pull %, it tells a bit of a different story.

As you can see from this visual, as his plate discipline has improved, all of the traits that come along with a home run swing have vanished. As pointed out recently by Zach Gifford over at Birds on the Black, most of the best hitters in baseball these days are trying to pull fly balls. That is how Paul has always kept his power numbers up. Can he maintain with his new approach?

I believe it was STL Hat Trick podcast 101 when I stated that DeJong was due for zero regression this season. A statement that I still believe will be factual. Most project him as a middle of the league, average shortstop with power. My projection for Paul is that he will be a perennial all star. It is a big leap, I know, but I see it in this guy. He has that, “It” factor.

I suppose only time will tell, but he seems like a smart enough player to make the necessary improvements. If he can’t, then I will take the 2 possible outcome player we once had, he seemed more valuable hitting dingers and striking out. As I pointed out in my last DeJong piece, there is more than one way to skin a cat, as is there to get to 3 outs. Strikeouts be damned, I’ll take the power!!!

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