By: Braden Zimmerman
While Paul DeJong and Marcell Ozuna both had steller 2017 campaigns, their 2018 seasons were both fairly disappointing. Ozuna had a great year in 2017, with a 5.8 WAR and finished 15th in the NL MVP voting while playing in Miami. After being traded to the Cardinals, Ozuna boasted a 2.9 WAR and had similar numbers to the four seasons prior to 2017. DeJong was a rookie in 2017, and had a 2.7 WAR while batting .285 with 25 homers and 65 RBIs in 108 games played. In his sophomore season, DeJong did have a higher WAR, but had a .044 drop in batting average and a .111 drop in OPS. But which one of these two will have a better 2019? My pick, Paul DeJong.
DeJong is the younger player, and did seem to make some improvements with his swing, even if his averages went down. He had a better exit velocity, a higher percentage of hard hit balls, a lower strikeout rate, and nearly doubled his walk rate. DeJong also made a massive improvement on defense between 2017 and 2018. Looking at Defensive Runs Saved Above Average, DeJong went from 0 in 2017 to 14 in 2018. When looking at other solid defensive shortstops, Francisco Lindor also had 14 in 2018, Javier Baez had 10, and Andrelton Simmons had 21. So 14 may not be elite, it is very solid, and locks in his spot at short for the Cardinals. This brings me to the biggest reason I think DeJong will have a better bounceback year in 2019 than Ozuna: playing time.
Marcell Ozuna had shoulder issues most of the 2018 season, and is going to ease into spring training, and could potentially miss some playing time toward the beginning of the 2019 season. Even if Ozuna is ready for Opening Day, the Cardinals will probably be cautious and give him more rest days than normal early. The Cardinals also have Tyler O’Neill, who is a top prospect in the organization, and Jose Martinez, who recently signed an extension to stay through 2020. If O’Neill is on the major league roster, then the Cardinals are going to make sure that he is getting a good amount of at bats, and Jose Martinez, while being a below average fielder, is a solid bat that will also find his way into the lineup. That’s without mentioning Dexter Fowler, who did not have a good year last year, but is another candidate to have a comeback season in 2019. Ozuna did improve his strikeout rate in 2018, but his walks and percentage of hard hit balls both went down.
Overall, Paul DeJong is set up for more success and a better comeback season in 2019 than Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna absolutely can have a solid season, as long as he gets healthy and stays healthy, and looks to walk more often. While DeJong’s numbers may have gone down last year, he continued to become an overall better player and improved his advanced analytical numbers. Keep an eye on Paul DeJong this year, as he may be a borderline all-star player at the shortstop position this year.