A month into the 2019 season, Paul DeJong is showing everyone the player that he can be.
You don’t have to look far to see the impact that he’s already made. His 1.9 fWAR this year is good for fourth in the league, and he’s in some pretty good company; the only players ahead of him in the category are Cody Bellinger (2.9), Christian Yelich (2.4) and Mike Trout (2.0). With DeJong’s fWAR already at 1.9 in 28 games played, he’s on pace to blow his previous career high of 3.3 in 2018 out of the water.
The Florida born shortstop’s slash line of .342/.400/.605 in 125 plate appearances in 2019 also draws some attention — all of the stats are career marks.To continue along the path of noteworthy numbers, he has 19 extra-base hits (2nd highest in MLB), 13 doubles (T-1st in MLB) and 69 total-bases (4th in MLB), which all rank in the top four across Major League Baseball. What’s causing all this success, though?
This season DeJong is putting much better contact on the ball — as the 2% increase in his barrel rate shows. One of the contributing factors to his offensive improvement is the drop in his swing rate at pitches outside the zone, from 30.1% last season to 27.3% in 2019. That development has also led to a decrease in strikeouts — K rate down to 17.5% from 25.1% last year. DeJong’s xwOBA (a statistical model that estimates the wOBA that each batted ball is expected to have produced based on its exit velocity and launch angle) of .391 compared to his .421 wOBA forecasts a little regression, although if it does drop down, a .391 wOBA is nothing to gripe about.
Moving over to defense, DeJong has continued his success from 2018. His 3 defensive runs saved are 7th among shortstops, however where he shines is with his UZR/150 (ultimate zone rating averaged to a 150 inning span), which sits at 9.6, a career high — ranks 5th with the MLB’s shortstops. Additionally his Def (defensive runs above average) of 2.8 ranks 5th in the MLB positionally, and first in the National League. Even with all his success, DeJong is still having trouble working walks — walk rate down 1.5%.
Taking a look at his offensive numbers against certain pitches, you can see that he’s still struggling to do anything with offspeed pitches – .222 xwOBA and 30% whiff rate. However, he has improved drastically against both fastballs and breaking balls. His .449 xwOBA on fastballs in 2019 is up .105 points from a year ago, while his xwOBA on breaking balls (.428) is up .088 points.
Granted it has only been 28 games, Dejong is making his case for the team’s Most Valuable Player in 2019 — and if he continues the pace, it’ll be the National League MVP he’s vying for.