One of our regular offseason traditions is the Exit Interview, where we look back at each player that got into a game for the St. Louis Cardinals in the past season. This is the 11th season we’ve done this and it’s a good way to get a view of the whole year, not just a short stretch of games. It’s sort of like a performance review before the players went off to their offseason work, spending a little time with Oli Marmol and going over what went right, what went wrong. Stats and grades are only for a player’s time in St. Louis, though splits numbers may include other teams. As always, my sincere thanks to the legend of cardinalsgifs for providing the header image!
Player: Paul DeJong
Season stats: 77 G, 237 PA, 19 R, 9 2B, 6 HR, 25 RBI, 3 SB, 2 CS, 21 BB, 79 K, .157/.245/.286, 53 OPS+, 0.2 bWAR, 0.1 fWAR
Statcast: .267 xwOBA, 9.8 barrel %, 87.6 exit velocity, 37.6 hard hit %, 33.3 K %, 8.9 BB %
Best Statcast category: Outs Above Average (87th percentile)
Worst Statcast category: Arm Strength (24th percentile)
Hero/Goat: Hero 4, Goat 9
Positives: Still played solid defense, often coming into games with the “hands team” late….hit .333 with 4 homers and 13 RBI in the 10 games after his return from Memphis in July….hit a grand slam against the Diamondbacks on August 20, which turned out to be his final home run of the season….all six homers came off of right-handed pitchers….had a 1.393 OPS in July, but only played in two games in the majors that month….hit .208 with five homers hitting seventh….hit .294 on the first pitch….had a 1.027 OPS when he was ahead in the count….had a .644 OPS with runners in scoring position….hit .229 in high leverage situations….had a .697 OPS against power pitchers….hit .249 with 17 home runs during his time in Memphis.
Negatives: Had to be demoted to Memphis a few days before his contract status required his permission….hit over .200 the fourth game of the season and then never again….hit .118 with only one extra-base hit (a double) in 77 plate appearances after his last homer….had a .493 OPS away from Busch….was 0-11 with two walks and seven strikeouts as a substitute….that included an 0-6 as a pinch-hitter….hit .043/.082/.064 when leading off an inning….had 14 at bats batting fifth or higher and had no hits in any of them….had a .491 OPS against starting pitchers….hit .040 against the Cubs and .172 against the Brewers….struck out a third of the time, the highest rate of his career….hit .183 on fastballs, which used to be his strength.
Overview: Let’s be honest, this was a lost season for DeJong. Many of the positives listed above are only positives because the rest of the numbers are so bad. The strikeouts were plentiful and became to be expected. While there was some hope after a hot spring training when he hit .435 with a couple of home runs, that optimism quickly faded when he was hitting .137 with a 40% strikeout rate at the end of April. There was hope again that Memphis might have fixed him to at least being a replacement-level player when he came up and beat the Yankees with key hits right after his promotion, but that also didn’t last. There’s not much DeJong will ever want to revisit from 2022.
Outlook: 121, 102, 99, 87, 85, 53. Those are OPS+ numbers, where 100 is an average player, from DeJong’s first year until his last. It’s a rare player that can decline six straight years in that regard and still be in the major leagues. The fact that he’s under contract surely helps and the Cards have him again for 2023, where he’ll make $9 million. (There are options for 2024 and 2025, but they are club options so unless DeJong wins MVP next season, those aren’t going to be exercised.) Nine million is hard to walk away from but it’s harder and harder to see how DeJong is a major league player. Look at those numbers above. Even an average season by him is under 100 OPS+, right? If he could be more like 2018-19 DeJong maybe he’s an acceptable backup to Tommy Edman at the shortstop position, but it’s going to take a large jump in production for him to even reach that.
All that said, the Cards probably don’t have much choice but to try to see if this winter will pay dividends. It seems unlikely that they could find a trade partner, even if they ate almost all the salary, unless someone wanted to do a bad contract for bad contract swap. I imagine that he’ll be in Cardinal red in spring training but from the moment he reports to the end of the year, the threat of DFA will be hanging over his head, which probably isn’t exactly good for a player that’s talked about overthinking things in the past.