Greetings. During the MLB All-Star break I wanted to take time to study a few players and parts in the Cardinals offense that loom as influential factors over the final 72 regular-season games.
Among the 15 NL teams the Cardinals rank 12th in runs per game, 11th in slugging, 12th in OPS,13th in batting average and last in onbase percentage. Any chance for a push for a postseason spot must include a revitalized St. Louis lineup. And unless the front office trades for an impact bat, the improvement must gleam and appear from within.
First up: shortstop Paul DeJong.
Stats: .185 batting average, .286 OBP, .385 slug, .672 OPS, 12 homers, 5 doubles, 28 RBI. Based on adjusted OPS, DeJong was 12 percent below league average offensively at the All-Star break.
DeJong is having a weird season.
When inspecting DeJong’s hitting profile, I see one terrible trend that jumps out at me: among regular players, DeJong is the team’s worst hitter in two-strike counts. How bad? An .098 batting average with a 48% strikeout rate. That bad. DeJong truly struggles to salvage at-bats, and the obvious flaw keeps his overall numbers down — and probably messes with his confidence.
DeJong hasn’t put up much resistance on two-strike pitches, and the scary thing is, it doesn’t matter how pitchers attack him.
Here’s how DeJong does against a variety of two-strike pitches according to data at Brooks Baseball:
- Four-seam fastball: .100 average, 19 strikeouts in 30 at-bats.
- Sinker: .071 average, 9 Ks in 14 ABs.
- Changeup: .077 average, 7 Ks in 13 ABs.
- Slider: .069 average, 16 Ks in 29 ABs.
- Curve: .125 average, 5 Ks in 8 ABs.
On the other hand …
DeJong isn’t chasing non-strikes at a high rate, he’s swinging at strikes at an above-average percentage, has a good contact rate, and is taking walks in a career-best 10.3% of his plate appearances.
DeJong’s overall strikeout rate (24.8) is slightly lower than his career standard. DeJong is hitting the ball hard and barreling pitches at a career-high 11.6 percent. Considering most of these factors, DeJong’s two-strike futility is weird.
This is also weird: DeJong has 12 homers — but only seven RBIs all season on non-homers. Most peculiar.
On contact, bad luck is in the mix here. Among MLB hitters that have at least 230 plate appearances this season, DeJong has the third-lowest batting average (.193) on balls in play — nearly 100 points below the league average of .291.
But it’s not that simple. DeJong’s low BABIP stems, at least in part, from his groundball problem.
His ground-ball rate, 40 percent, has produced the most lopsided groundball-flyball ratio of his career.
And that’s harmful to his batting average. DeJong has hit a grounder 59 times this season, finding only eight hits, for a .135 average. And that includes an average of .091 on grounders to the left side.
Other than making adjustments on two-strike pitches — that’s mandatory — here’s another key for DeJong going forward: he must convert more of his barreled pitches and hard-contact connections into line drives. His current line-drive rate (17%) would be the lowest of his career.
Is there legitimate hope for better results?
Honestly, I don’t know. Yes, we can pull optimism from his hit-ball-hard metrics. Among Cardinal regulars, DeJong’s barrel percentage ranks second, and his hard-hit rate (38.7%) ranks third. But this two-strike failure could be a momentum-breaker.
DeJong did generate some momentum in over the last two-plus weeks. In 47 plate appearances since June 25, DeJong batted .308 with a .667 slugging percentage, four homers and two doubles.
DeJong has hit the ball really hard during this stretch, and the four home runs in his last 37 at-bats reaffirms that more hitting happiness is possible when DeJong goes airborne.
Ah, but …
During this mini-streak DeJong is 0 for 9 with a 60 percent strikeout rate on two-strike counts.
Sigh. Yep, it’s been a weird season for Pauly.
The Cardinals need DeJong to ignite offensively. An unspectacular offense needs that, and if DeJong can get himself right he’s capable of making a huge difference. But an offensive surge is unlikely unless DeJong shows dramatic improvement in his two-strike hitting to keep at-bats alive. And when DeJong can connect, he needs fewer grounders and frequent line drives.
Thanks for reading …
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.