THE REDBIRD REVIEW

Paul DeJong was paid $4 million by the Cardinals in 2021. He has a $6 million guaranteed salary for 2022. Next season DeJong’s guaranteed pay jumps to $9 million. So that will be an outlay of $19 million guaranteed dollars by the Cardinals over a three-season period.

Since the beginning of the 2021 season DeJong is batting .181, slugging .355, getting on base 27% of the time, and has a .626 OPS.

Among the 250 MLB batters that have at least 615 plate appearances over the last two seasons DeJong ranks 248th in average, 244th in OBP, 225th in slugging and 238th in OPS.

This season DeJong is batting .153 with a .535 OPS. His slugging percentage (.289) represents a horrendous collapse in his power game.

Through Wednesday’s loss at Milwaukee, DeJong had gone 3 for 45 (.067) in his last 52 plate appearances. But manager Oli Marmol apparently plans to give DeJong regular at-bats over the final six regular-season games, because, in the words of the Post-Dispatch, “to see where his swing can be for the team off the bench in a postseason series.”

My goodness. Are we still playing this foolish game? I think we know where DeJong’s swing is these days; there’s no uncertainty here. Stop it. To be clear, that’s not a comment on the writing. It’s a reference to the Cardinals’ annoying habit of stringing the DeJong situation along, trying to spin fans into believing that Paulie can suddenly turn viable and productive and become an offensive asset in a postseason drive.

The fans aren’t stupid, OK? And while DeJong is an above-average shortstop, his quality defense isn’t enough to justify his faded ability to hit.

When a contract goes bad, the repercussions are felt in several ways:

— The money wasted on the player.

— Keeping the player around to take up a precious roster space, just because the team made the mistake by handing him a pricey guaranteed contract that turned into liability. The player takes up a roster spot that could be allocated more effectively in the attempt to strengthen the roster.

— With management refusing to admit an obvious mistake, the player not only occupies a place on the roster, but the team must move another player out of the way to create an opening in order to fill a need.

— In this case the Cardinals traded utility infielder Edmundo Sosa, a very good defender, to the Phillies and received lefty reliever Jo Jo Romero in the exchange. After making a positive early impression for the Cardinals, Romero has a 10.80 ERA in his last seven appearances.

And Sosa? Well, the Phillies love him. Sosa has started games at shortstop, third base and left field. He can also be used at second base. In 59 plate appearances for Philadelphia, Sosa is batting .315 with a .345 OBP and a .593 slug. That’s a .937 OPS. And based on his OPS+, Sosa is 59 percent above league average offensively since heading to Philadelphia. In his last 12 games, Sosa is batting .364 with a 1.129 OPS. And he has saved runs defensively for the Phillies at two positions.

Pure and simple, Sosa was relocated and moved out of the way because of payroll politics. He’s a better player than DeJong, but that wasn’t the No. 1 concern. The St. Louis front office invested a lot of money in DeJong and is too proud and stubborn to eat the money, move on, and upgrade the roster. So that’s how this team could end up going into the postseason with a roster that’s less than the max. Cringe.

Over the last two seasons Sosa has the edge on DeJong in OPS — .701 to .626 – and is around 24 percent better offensively in park and league adjusted runs created. And over the last two seasons Sosa has saved 13 runs defensively at shortstop – and he’s saved four additional runs at third base and second base. DeJong has 12 defensive runs saved at shortstop since the start of last season – but it’s the only position he plays. A player who can play multiple positions is especially helpful in Marmol’s system of moving pieces around to attain matchup advantages.

Sosa hit poorly for the Cardinals this season, and in general I don’t have a problem with their decision to trade him. Sosa was out of minor-league options. They were in a roster jam. My objection is based on the REASON why they traded Sosa … to try and salvage their sunken investment in DeJong.

And to come clean about this, I didn’t holler about the Sosa trade at the time. DeJong had just been promoted from a long stay at Triple A Memphis, and he hit two homers and drove home four runs in his first two games back with the Cardinals. Was he turning things around? At that moment, you couldn’t rule it out. The Cardinals were also using rookie Nolan Gorman at second base on a regular basis, and the middle infield was crowded.

So, yes, I’ll plead guilty to hypocrisy here.

However … they have to make sure they are well equipped for the postseason. The Cardinals will likely be challenged offensively going forward. Their stats against winning teams aren’t good … mediocre at best.

So how will DeJong help them exactly? He isn’t a fearsome pinch-hitting option. He’d be used sparingly, if at all, as a defensive replacement. Unless there’s an injury or Marmol suddenly becomes disconnected from his intelligence, he wouldn’t pull Tommy Edman from shortstop for DeJong. The same applies to Brendan Donovan; he wouldn’t pull the rookie, move Edman to second base and plug in DeJong at shortstop.

Granted, because Donovan can play six positions he can be moved around the chess board. So in that context, DeJong adds flexibility and gives Marmol a backup option if the manager moves Donovan to another defensive position during a game.

Are the Cardinals just giving up on Gorman for 2022? Look, Gorman tumbled into a horrible slump late in the season and the Cardinals sent him to Memphis to pull himself together. It made sense to do that at the time, but the plan didn’t work. Gorman batted .159 with one homer and an alarming 50 percent strikeout rate after being returned to Memphis.

That said, Gorman had 13 doubles, 14 homers and a .420 slugging percentage at the major-league level this season. And despite his severe downturn, Gorman still posted an OPS+ for the Cardinals that put him six percent above league average. Based on OPS+, DeJong is 46 percent BELOW average at the MLB level this season. And Gorman offers an option as a potential left-side power bat … if he can rebound … quickly rebound.

Are the Cardinals serious about this? Are they really thinking about carrying DeJong on the first-round postseason roster? They do realize that the franchise has lost 15 of its last 20 postseason games, right? Winning should be the only priority. But when a contract goes bad, even smart teams make inexplicable decisions. We’ll see how this plays out. In theory DeJong has a chance to hit a couple of homers to give the Cardinals a cover of justification if they decide to go with him on the first-round roster.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

Jose Quintana, Write Him In: He’s earned a start in the first-round postseason series. I’m not sure why, at this point, this would be a discussion.

— In 11 starts as a Cardinal, Quintana has a 2.11 ERA in 59 and ⅔ innings and the team has won in nine of his 11 assignments. He’s allowed one home run to 237 batters faced. He’s held hitters to a .243 average, ..294 OBP, and .303 slug. He’s struck out 48 and walked 15. He hasn’t given up more than two earned runs in his 11 starts. He has given up one run or no runs in six of the 11.

— Quintana is peaking at the right time. In five September starts he’s yielded only three earned runs in 30.1 innings for a 0.89 ERA. He’s ratcheted up his strikeout rate to 25.2 percent for the month, striking out 28 hitters while walking three. In the five starts, opponents have batted .189 against him with a .218 OBP and .236 slug.

— Quintana, of course, is a left-hander. But in his 11 starts as a Cardinal he’s actually been more effective against RH batters (.586 OPS) than LH batters (.658 OPS.) But in September Quintana has held LH batters to a .333 OPS, and RH batters to a .474 OPS.

So the two most likely first-round matchup for the Cardinals – Milwaukee or Philadelphia – shouldn’t matter as much. But if we want to play that game, I’ll submit this into the record: This season left-handed starting pitchers have a 2.80 ERA in 241 innings against the Brewers. And LH starters have a 4.91 ERA in 220 innings against the Phillies.

About That Wild-Card Chase … Milwaukee trails Philadelphia by a half-game in the push for the third wild-card spot and the right to play St. Louis in the first round. That gap is really 1.5 games because the Phillies hold the tiebreak over the Brewers after winning the season series.

Two weeks ago the Phillies led Milwaukee by 4 ½ games. Since then, the Phils have shown signs of falling apart, losing four in a row and nine of their last 12. By the time I’m finished writing this the Brewers and Phillies could be tied with identical records in the wild–card standings. The Phils were at Wrigley Field for a Thursday afternoon game, and the Cubs had an early lead.

“I think they’re trying to do too much at times,” Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson said after losing to the Cubs on Wednesday. “I’m not sure if that’s pressure, but I think there’s other times during the season where they tried to do too much, too. We’ve gone on stretches like that. So we’ve got to come out of it — and we will.”

In their last 12 games before Thursday the Phillies were hitting .206 and slugging .299 with runners in scoring position.

“It’s been one of those little funks right now,” Philly bopper Kyle Schwarber said Wednesday night. “Obviously, we don’t want it to be happening right now and we’re gonna have to find a way out of it. We’re not happy with what’s going on, because we want to score runs. We’re gonna have to capitalize on those.”

Remaining Schedules: After Thursday’s day-ball game at Wrigley Field, the Phillies will have seven games left on the schedule, all on the road: four at Washington and three at Houston. The Brewers open a four-game series against Miami on Thursday night, and then finish with three vs. Arizona. And all seven of the remaining games will be played at American Family Field, Milwaukee’s home park. I’m offering the info in case you wanted to get caught up in the Phils-Crew race, which obviously impacts the Cardinals. Unless the Padres unravel, the Cardinals will play either the Phillies or Brewers in the opening best-of-three postseason series at Busch Stadium. That series is scheduled to begin next Friday, Oct. 7.

Accounting Department: After Wednesday’s 5-1 loss at Milwaukee, the Cardinals (90-66) slouched to a final 30-35 record against winning teams this season. And that’s how it will end, because the Cards will play the Pirates in their final six reg-season games … The Cardinals barely won the season series from the Brewers (10-9) and went 3-4 against the Phillies … subtracting their 19 games against Milwaukee, the Cardinals went 20-26 against the other winning teams on their schedule … the Cardinals are 39-39 on the road, with three more roadies to go, early next week at Pittsburgh … the Cardinals did not win a road series against a winning team this season, going 0-6 with four splits in 10 series. STL’s overall road record against winning teams was 11-21.

Brendan Donovan, Onbase Man: The do-everything rookie had two hits and three walks in eight plate appearances in the two games at Milwaukee. That raises his onbase percentage for the season to .393, and I think we need to pause and think about that for a minute.

Among the 165 MLB hitters that have at least 440 plate appearances this season, Donovan’s .393 ranks 7th overall and 4th in the National League. The only three NL hitters with a higher OBP than Donovan are Freddie Freeman (.408), Juan Soto (.405) and Paul Goldschmidt.

That’s danged impressive for a young hitter who began the 2021 season playing for the Cardinals’ high Class A affiliate in Peoria.

Donovan has been on base 174 times this season on 104 hits, 58 walks and 12 hit by pitches. That’s fourth on the team but the guys that have reached base more times – Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Tommy Edman – average 622 plate appearances. Donovan has only 444 plate appearances.

Donovan’s .393 onbase percentage leads major-league rookies and is 16 points higher than Cleveland’s Steven Kwan, who ranks second with a .377 OBP.

Tracking Dylan Carlson: The difficulties continued for the switch-hitting outfielder during Wednesday’s loss, as Carlson went 0 for 5 with two strikeouts. In his 10 games since returning from the IL (sprained thumb) on Sept. 17, Carlson is hitting .206 with a .229 OBP and a .353 slug for a substandard .582 OPS. He has only one walk and nine strikeouts since making it back.

The switch-hitting Carlson has a .345 slug and .632 OPS vs. right-handed pitchers this season compared to his .472 slug and .832 OPS vs. lefties.

Carlson has reached base at a much higher percentage vs. LH (.360) than RH (.287.)

Since reaching his season peak with a .751 OPS on July 28, Carlson has batted .193 with a .267 onbase percentage and .304 slug for a .570 OPS in 150 plate appearances.

And while Carlson has done a good job in center field with six defensive runs saved in 449 innings there, rookie Ben DeLuzio has saved three runs in center but in only 49 innings.

Checking In On Harrison Bader: In his first 30 plate appearances for the Yankees the former Cardinal center fielder is batting .222 with a too-low .526 OPS and a too-high 36.6 percent strikeout rate.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

 

 

 

 

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.