Move Paul DeJong To Third Base? Why? He’s Among the Best Shortstops in MLB

Every fan base has its quirks. It’s nothing new, and we’re no different. It could be insisting that Matt Holliday wasn’t “clutch” (false) or categorizing Matt Carpenter as a “marginal” hitter based on his batting average (just plain goofy).

The latest peculiarity is the itch to move Paul DeJong from shortstop to third base. I can’t tell you an exact number, but this is something I hear quite often from fans and some media pals. Transfer DeJong to third base, and go get a smooth-fielding, above-average shortstop to improve the defense there.

Look, if the Cardinals could make a trade for Angels’ shortstop Andrelton Simmons, I’d co-sign on the idea of relocating DeJong to third base. Simmons is exceptional defensively, having won four Gold Glove awards in his seven MLB seasons. Simmons has been credited with 184 Defensive Runs Saved since coming to the big leagues with Atlanta in 2012. He’s finished first in the majors in DRS in four different seasons, has been second twice, and never ranked worse than third.

Simmons has developed into a respectable hitter, slugging  .419 with a .753 OPS and a low strikeout rate (8.9%) over the past two seasons. In the majors only one shortstop, Francisco Lindor, has more WAR (13.4) than Simmons (10.6) since the start of 2017. He’s only 29. Simmons also has a team-friendly contract with the Angels,  paying him $13 million in 2019 and $15 million in 2020. Simmons can become an unrestricted free agent before the 2021 season. But why would the Angels trade him? They aren’t tanking or rebuilding. The Halos are trying to win. They aren’t trying to offload salaries in a fire sale.

So for the estimated 96.8 percent of Cardinals fans that are saying “Go get Simmons,”  it’s a fine idea …. well, except for the part that requires a trade with a team that doesn’t want to deal Simmons. I’ve had other folks nominate shortstop candidates to replace DeJong. Except that every shortstop mentioned as a upgrade isn’t as good as DeJong defensively. So what would be the point?

In 2018, DeJong was tied for third among MLB shortstops with 14 Defensive Runs Saved. That’s an impressive total considering that DeJong missed a bunch of time after suffering a fractured hand on a hit by pitch on May 17. He didn’t return until July 6, and played in only 115 games last season. And despite the shortage of innings due to the fluke injury, DeJong had only seven fewer defensive runs saved than Simmons in 2018.

There weren’t any real holes in DeJong’s defense at shortstop in 2018. According to the Fielding Bible plus-minus ratings, DeJong was a +5 on grounders hit to his right, a +4 on balls hit straight at him, a +9 on grounders hit to his left, a +18 on all ground balls, and a +1 on balls hit into the air.

So what’s the problem here?

Even with only 115 games and 490 plate appearances last season, DeJong finished 11th among all shortstops, and fourth among NL shortstops, with 3.3 WAR. That’s not surprising considering his power, defense and plus-baserunning. The only two full-time NL shortstops with more Wins Above Replacement than DeJong last season were Trevor Story and Trea Turner.  And they had the advantage of playing in 40+ more games than DeJong.

Since coming to the big leagues in May of 2017, DeJong’s 6.3 WAR ranks 12th among MLB shortstops — but is second to Carlos Correa in WAR among shortstops that have played in 250 games or fewer over the last two seasons.

In DeJong’s two seasons:

* He ranks 10th overall at the position with a level of offense that’s 11 percent above the league average.

* He has the sixth highest slugging percentage among shortstops at .482.

* He’s sixth among shortstops with 44 homers, and fifth in ISO  (.219)

* In his first two major-league seasons DeJong has homered every 19.3 at-bats. That’s very good.

In addition, DeJong improved his plate discipline from 2017 to 2018.

His walk rate went from 4.7% as a rookie to 7.3% in 2018.

His strikeout rate — 28% as a rookie — went down to 25% last season.

DeJong’s swinging strike rate last season was 11 percent; that was down from 13.3 in 2017.

In his second season DeJong swung at fewer pitches out out of the strike zone (down four percent), improved his contact rate on strikes, and improved his  overall contact rate. His line-drive and hard-contact rates went up.

All of that plus the very good defense at shortstop for a player who is still only 25 years old.

The Cardinals can move DeJong to third base if the right shortstop surfaces. But they don’t have to slide him over to third.

If it makes you happy, then keep yapping about moving a power-hitting shortstop who plays top-three defense — as if there’s something wrong with that. Makes no sense.

Move DeJong? No. Just appreciate him.

Thanks for reading …


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