Paul DeJong has been a man on fire thus far in 2019 and he's living on the edge (in the right way), man. So far, it seems as though DeJong can do no wrong. If you extrapolated his current (2nd in the majors) fWAR and bWAR of 2.6 out to 600 PA, John Redbird lets us know that DeJong would have a 10.2 WAR season under his belt this year. Now, he's still got 5 months for this to play out that way, but it'd be the first 10+ WAR season for a Cardinal (by fWAR) since some guy named Stan Musial back before my dad was even born, in 1948. In fact, I added to the tweet referenced above and just extrapolated out our current 35 games to a 162 game schedule and noticed that DeJong would have 12.0 WAR doing it that way. Rogers Hornsby in 1924 has the only 12+ fWAR season by a St. Louis Cardinal in history (see this leaderboard).
Now, I have very little confidence that DeJong can keep up a 169 wRC+ (at which he is currently listed on Fangraphs). However, here is what I do have confidence in. Paul DeJong is seeing the baseball quite well. Let's dig into some .gifs to see what I'm talking about. Like back in April, I'm going to look at this through attack zones (brought to us by Baseball Savant). Here are the attack zones that will be referenced throughout the article:
The zones I want to focus on today (and next time when I look at pitcher John Brebbia) are the shadow zones in (I believe) beige. Those pitches are the edges of the strike zone, both inside of it and outside of it. Those are the toughest pitches to decide on if they're strikes or not...so logically I (not a major league hitter by any stretch of the imagination) would believe are the hardest pitches to either hit or lay off. As of right now, Paul DeJong is doing absolutely fantastic against pitches in the shadow zone this year. He has a .393 wOBA when only looking at pitches in the shadow zones above. For reference, a .393 wOBA would have placed him 6th in the major leagues last year looking at ALL plate appearances, much less the ones that should be the toughest to hit.
In his career, Jedd Gyorko has a .355 wOBA (think Jose Martinez's 2018 season) against fastballs. Courtesy of @cardinalsgifs, here is a four seam fastball in the shadow zone that Jeremy Jeffress just blows by Jedd Gyorko this year. Not to say that people haven't done that to Gyorko before, but when you're not seeing the ball well in the shadow of the strike zone, this is what happens to you, especially on high heat.
When you are seeing the ball well, and playing to the top of your abilities, you pull the heck out of that pitch in to the left field seats. Oh wait, barely anyone does that, especially on a pitch that is much closer to being up and in than up and away - oh, and is one mile per hour faster. Here's DeJong doing just that, however, against Corbin Burnes of the Brewers.
In today's game of baseball, with an emphasis on high spin rate fastballs up in (and out) of the zone, it is important to be looking to catch up to a pitch like DeJong did above. DeJong isn't just doing this against fastballs, however. Another important pitch in a lot of pitchers arsenals is a high breaking ball that is used either as a setup pitch, or a back-door type put-away pitch. Here is DeJong depositing a high curveball for a double into the left field corner.
I'm sure Chris Flexen of the Mets was just looking to get this pitch in for a strike, but was unable to sneak it past DeJong, but it's not often a guy goes up to the plate thinking, "I'll just look for the hanging curve ball to hammer" here. When you are seeing the ball well, though, things just come up aces.
Matt Carpenter (until the last week or so) has really not been seeing the ball well this year. He has a lot of strikeouts, especially on sliders and other breaking stuff. Here is an example of "when you're not seeing the ball well" you simply aren't able to make good (or any) contact. This pitch is not really as "apples to apples" of a comparison as the high curve ball to DeJong, but it's a breaking pitch in the shadow of the strike zone that Carpenter swings through against former Cardinal farmhand and current Washington National, Kyle Barraclough.
Here's the more "apples to apples" comparison to the above pitch to Matt Carpenter. Jacob Barnes, of the Milwaukee Brewers, tries to put DeJong away with a slider in the shadow of the zone on the outer half (very similar to Carpenter's but both against RHP despite their hitting from opposite sides of the plate). DeJong is able to battle it off and single to left field despite the great placement by Barnes due to how well he's seeing pitches out of the hand and putting bat to ball early this season.
Let's hope that Paul DeJong keeps living on the edge the right way because, as you'll see in the next installment of this with John Brebbia, players do not often perform this well against pitchers' pitches.
*I hope everyone who made it this far found the Easter egg* and thank you for reading.