Voices From The Basement: David DeJesus
Kevin: Well, it's been an extremely long time since we last chatted, my friend. Between steroids, Calvin Pickering being freed, and the candlelight vigil I'm going to hold for Zack Greinke's bruised right arm, we have quite a bit to get caught up on. But let's start with a guy who had more to do with the Royals' 3-3 start than any other player on the roster: David DeJesus.
As you aptly pointed out on the Royals MLB.com message board a few days ago, DeJesus drew six walks in the team's first six games, and was hitting .348/.483/.435 in 23 at-bats at the time of this writing. I know that any player's early-season performance is going to be unfairly praised or grumbled upon because those numbers, without any other stats to put them into context, stick out like a sore thumb. Additionally, DeJesus isn't going to draw 162 walks, and he definitely isn't going to hit .348.
However, I think his plate discipline deserves to be noticed and talked about. After all, the fun part of April is trying to answer all of those "what if?" questions, and my "what if?" question with DeJesus pertains to if he's actually a much-better player than anyone's ever given him credit for. Nobody's ever doubted his ability to play at this level; Allard Baird and I have both brought up Mark Kotsay's name when anybody's asked for a good comparison for DDJ, and Kotsay's certainly a damned fine ballplayer. But is it possible that he could be something greater than Kotsay ever will be? Check this out:
MINOR LEAGUE PERFORMANCE
PLAYER A: 1274 AB, .268/.347/.438
DEJESUS: 562 AB, .302/.400/.484
Before you say anything, yes, I know that DeJesus had half the minor league at-bats of Player A, and how that could skew any comparison. I think it's interesting, though, that Player A is the man DeJesus replaced in CF after The Trade last June.
Does DeJesus have the raw physical abilities Carlos Beltran possesses? No, and that's a major strike against him ever becoming the player Beltran is today. But he certainly has always understood how to hit, how to lay off sliders in the dirt, and, most importantly, how to make hard contact. Oh yeah, and he's a pretty fine defender too.
So what do you think? Is it totally ridiculous to believe that DDJ could, in time, become a Baby Beltran as opposed to a Kotsay Klone?
Daniel: Baby Beltran? I'm going to refute that moniker, but only because of the "baby" part of it. I'm sticking my neck out here, but I don't think that there needs to be any mini-comparison with regards to what DeJesus could become.
That being said, I'll digress quickly -- I'm not projecting DeJesus to become the slugging centerfielder that the Mets are dearly, dearly hoping showed up in 2004 for the Royals and Astros. No, I'm projecting the possibility (dare I say probability?) that David will become the Beltran of 2002 and 2003.
It's simple, really. Dejesus is currently 25 years of age, and will be 26 by December of this year. Beltran was in his year 25 and 26 years in 2002 and 2003. So, we already have a similarity in age.
Secondly, those two years for Beltran were the years his ability to draw walks took off, along with another metric that indicates plate patience -- pitches per plate appearance.
If we look at Beltran's progression from his rookie season in 1999 to 2002 and 2003 (excluding 2000, the year that he had his sophomore slump and was injured), we can see the rise in two numbers...
AT-BATS PER WALK
1999: 1 walk every 14.4 at-bats
2001: 1 walk every 11.9 at-bats
2002: 1 walk every 9.0 at-bats
2003: 1 walk every 7.2 at-bats
PITCHES PER PLATE APPEARANCE
Now, I could go on to say that Beltran had an even better walk rate and saw 4 pitches per plate appearance in 2004, but his isolated power took a spike last year that I do not believe DeJesus is capable of, so I'll let it go. An ISO of about 200 points sounds about right for DeJesus, but Beltran's nasty ISO of 281 points in 2004 is something that will be beyond what David can do.
Okay, so now we come to the DeJesus comparison, with one large problem: sample size. I don't have 3 previous years of major league data on DeJesus to compare to Beltran's, but the thing is I don't really think it matters. We know DeJesus has put up Beltran-similar numbers in the minors. Big deal, right? We'll simply go with DeJesus' comparable rates from his 363 at-bat stint last year:
AT-BATS PER WALK
2004: 1 walk every 11 at-bats
PITCHES PER PLATE APPEARANCE
Yeah, are you seeing it now? If we compare their age 24 years (2004 for DeJesus and 2001 for Beltran) we can see even more: DeJesus is actually ahead of Beltran in the area of plate discipline. He's drawing a walk almost a full at-bat earlier than Beltran, and he's seeing more pitches per at-bat. If this was any other area than plate discipline, I could write it off as some sort of spike, but plate discipline is a skill. Furthermore, it's been a highly developed skill for DeJesus for years now, whereas for Beltran it didn't become highly developed until he was in his 4th year in the majors.
I don't think it takes much of a stretch at all to say DeJesus is right about the same point in his hitting ability at his age that Beltran was at the same age. I won't go any further than that; Beltran obviously has a higher ceiling on power, and DeJesus will never be quite the centerfielder that Beltran was at the height of his prowess, but in the end, who cares? Allard Baird may have pulled off one of the most underrated player transitions (from star to rookie) in years, as nobody yet is close to giving him credit for knowing exactly when to pull the Beltran trade-trigger: when DeJesus was ready for the Show.