The St. Louis Cardinals have struggled as of late, losing eight of their last 10 games while dropping into third place in the National League Central -- a division they're expected to compete for all season long. For as trying as the last couple weeks have been in St. Louis, the Cardinals can take solace in one achievement: buying into shortstop Paul DeJong before it became fashionable.
DeJong entered Tuesday hitting .321/.408/.564 with seven home runs and three stolen bases. Advanced metrics suggest he's been more than one of the top performing shortstops in the game -- instead, he's been one of the season's top players, period. Coming into play on Tuesday night, DeJong trailed only Cody Bellinger in Wins Above Replacement accumulated by a NL position player, per Baseball-Reference. In layman's terms: He's been very, very good.
DeJong's production has been so good that it's arguable he's one of the game's most underpaid players. Remember, the Cardinals guaranteed him $26 million as part of a six-year extension back in March 2018. At the time, the deal seemed premature. DeJong had ascended from nowhere to hit 25 home runs and post a 121 OPS+ in 108 games as a rookie, but his approach (he averaged nearly six strikeouts per walk) left many wondering about sustainability.
Last season, DeJong showed improvement in that regard. He became less strikeout-prone and more accepting of walks, leading to a 3.42 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This year, he's made even more progress. He's striking out just 1.5 times per walk -- and both his strikeout (16.8 percent) and walk (11.7 percent) rates would represent new career-bests. Put another way, DeJong has walked 21 times -- or as many as he did his rookie season … in 264 fewer trips to the plate.
The interesting thing about DeJong's maturing approach is that his plate-discipline tendencies haven't changed year-to-year. He's swinging as often as he did last year, as well as making as much contact and expanding his zone as often, per Statcast. He is seeing fewer pitches within the zone, however, and that seems to be contributing to the trends at hand.
Whatever the exact explanation, we're far enough into the season to believe there's something to DeJong's improved walk and strikeout rates. And that's great news for the Cardinals, who seem to have locked up a potential All-Star (and early-season MVP candidate) at a bargain-bin price.