By Andrew Riak, from Cardsblog.com
Fangraphs recently came out with their ZiPs projections for the Cardinals in 2018, and the overall appearance is that the Cardinals will be no worse than average next season. Obviously, that is not what they’re shooting for, and hopefully studs like Carlos Martinez help bring the team back to playing postseason baseball again.
The glaring issue that pops out is not batting or pitching related, but instead fielding. They say defense wins championships, and unfortunately for the Cardinals, Paul DeJong is projected to save -6 runs. A projection is just a projection, and no one can predict the future. For example, Hall of Famer Mike Piazza was picked in the 62nd round.
Shortstop is not the position where you want a weaker fielder, but generally players like Andrelton Simmons, while flashy with the glove, can’t hit as well as they can field.
With the rise of shortstops who can pull their weight with a glove and a bat, such as Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor, is Paul DeJong a good piece for the Cardinals to keep as they look to get back to the playoffs?
First of all, there is no other place that I could find DeJong projected as badly as -6 runs saved. It is possible the ZiPs algorithm just hates him, but it does place him worst on the squad, so it’s not something fans can just ignore.
Last season, DeJong made 12 errors, which is better than many shortstops in the league, but, he had 439 chances which makes his fielding percentage respectable. The awful prediction is a little surprising because he came into the majors after playing mostly third base, so all he can do is improve at such a difficult position.
A poor projection could come from a bad previous season, but DeJong actually had positive value at shortstop for the Cardinals in 2017. While he is clearly projected to regress, if the Cardinals worst defensive player is above average, I do not think many people could complain at all.
The Cardinals don’t want him to be another Brendan Ryan, who was good defensively, but could not put out great offensive numbers. While Ryan has the Cardinals last two good defensive seasons based on WAR in 2009 and 2010, who wants Brendan Ryan? It is more important for the Cardinals to avoid losing games 1-0 to a Cubs minor league team than it is to worry about never giving up any runs.
DeJong is capable of making plays. There is always this one against the Cubs.
DeJong is projected to hit 26 home runs next season, which is part of what baseball is turning into, a home run derby. With all of the balls flying way past outfield fences, a shortstop with power may be more valuable to a team than one who can play excellent defense.
Furthermore, he does not steal bases. He had a negative base running value according to fangraphs last year. The Cardinals have not been known to steal bases lately, but the main point is DeJong is not your typical shortstop. He's not some guy who only runs fast and throws acrobatically. He can hit at an above average clip and if he does not run into any outs, then he hopefully won’t cost the Cardinals many runs on the bases.
With that said, DeJong could be a better player if he stole bases like other shortstops, or if he dove into the stands like Jeter. But that isn’t the kind of player he is, and it isn’t what the Cardinals should expect of him. Hopefully his bat makes us forget all about what Dan Szymborski’s ZiPs projection says DeJong can do in the field.
This is not to say DeJong’s value is helped by his defensive capabilities. It is just that while worst on the team, he is not terrible compared to the rest of the league, and he is certainly better than their other current options. They’re not signing anyone who can play defense better Paul DeJong that would justify giving up a possible big season at the plate for him. It is also hard to believe he will not improve at shortstop.
Statistics Courtesy of FanGraphs