Monday, January 28, 2008

Royals Insider: David DeJesus

Royals Insider stretches its legs once again on this fateful Sunday afternoon, as Royals center fielder David DeJesus presents himself.

Swagger. Moxie. Confidence. David DeJesus has all three.

The Royals selected Rutgers University junior David Christopher DeJesus in the fourth round of the 2000 amateur entry draft. However, in his final college game at Rutgers, he sustained an elbow injury and later blew it out completely. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2001, and missed an entire season. However, making the transition from Rutgers to professional ball, DeJesus didn't seem to miss a beat. He still projected as a solid contact hitter and on-base threat, after moving swiftly through the Royals' farm system.

In his first full season, 2002, DeJesus connected for 22 doubles and 6 triples in 334 at-bats, and also stole 15 bases in 21 attempts. The next season, DeJesus would move rapidly from Wichita to Omaha, hitting a combined .308/.392/.472 at those two levels. He became something of a sleeper prospect, and gained notoriety as a potential lead-off man of the future and successor to then-center fielder Carlos Beltran, whose departure from the small-market midwest was imminent.

DeJesus impressed the K.C. brass in his extremely short stint in Kansas City in 2003, and became the starting center fielder and leadoff man in mid-2004, and would essentially remain in that role thereafter. According to this still-relevant 2004 scouting report:

"DeJesus is not a physically imposing player, but he is a good athlete and strong for his size. He has a short, sharp, and compact swing. Although he does not have plus home run power, he generates good bat speed, has punch to the gaps, and will knock the occasional long ball. DeJesus controls the strike zone extremely well, seldom swinging at bad pitches. He thinks along with the pitcher, and will go to the opposite field when needed. He can sometimes be overpowered inside, but he has enough quickness in his wrists to punish the pitcher if a mistake is made over the plate. He holds in well against both breaking balls and changeups. DeJesus has above average speed, shows good instincts on the bases, and is a solid defensive outfielder. He has enough range for center field, but the elbow injury robbed him of arm strength. He works hard, and scouts like his work ethic and aggressive style of play."

Defensively, he has been a mainstay in center field, mostly because of his tremendous instincts and above average range. According to Operation Center Field, DeJesus' Revised Zone Rating was .910 in 2007 and Ultimate Zone Rating was an above average +13. His Range Factor was a respectable 2.70. Unfortunately, arm speed is a bit more difficult to truly measure quantitatively; however, scouts seem intent that DeJesus' throwing arm is certainly not a flaw in his game. According to this Bill James study, he was also one of the best baserunners in the game.

Offensively, despite playing in a career-high 157 games, DeJesus saw most at-the-plate statistics decrease sharply in his 2007 campaign. His OPS slipped by an astonishing 87 points (.810 in 2006, .723 in 2007). He hit seven fewer doubles, but showed an uncanny ability to get plunked with the baseball (23 hit-by-pitches was a team high). Perhaps, as an analysts, should we chalk 2007 up as merely 'one of those years', or did something more sinister prevent DeJesus from performing at maximum capabilities? Unfortunately, he has struggled fairly consistently against left-handed pitching throughout his career, hitting .262/.341/.379 against southpaws - respectable, but a far cry from his .290/.365/.429 showing against righties. Also, DeJesus loves hitting at Kauffman Stadium, and has a career OPS 50 points higher at the friendly confines.

On that note, will DeJesus rebound from a lackluster 2006 season, or will he continue to regress? Let's assess the crystal ball for David's 2008:

GS/G: 143/146
AB: 571
H: 163
AVG: .277
OBP: .358
SLG: .416
HR: 6
RBI: 51
R: 77
2B: 34
3B: 7
BB: 69
SO: 81
SB: 11
CS: 7
OPS+: 10

- Excellent on-base skills and ability to work the count makes him a viable leadoff candidate (Career +76 BA/OBP split)
- Fifth best baserunner in Major League baseball, according to Bill James' study mentioned above
- Above average range, instincts, and arm in center field (career 2.59 RFg in Center field)
- Signed to a safe, affordable, and tradeable contract (Was signed to a five-year, $13.8MM contract, with a club option for 2011, before the 2006 season)
- Destroys finesse pitchers (career .328/.396/.496 line in 973 plate appearances against finessers)

- Now that he is entering his age 28 season, not much upside remains.
- Excellent baserunning skills does not translate to stolen bases, which unquestionably hinders his leadoff ability (career 29:23 SB:CS ratio)
- Struggles against left-handed pitching (as mentioned above)
- His OPS+ dropped 19 points last season. Is this a sign of things to come?

On-field performance:
Experiences significant dropoff overall: 5%
Reverts to 2004-2006 form, with power surge: 10%
Repeats 2007 form: 25%
Reverts to 2004-2006 form: 60%

Injury contigency:
Injured for 15 days or more: 30%

Chances traded before Opening Day: 10%
Chances traded mid-season: 5%

Job allocation:
Starting centerfielder: 80%
Mostly starting centerfielder, some corner outfield mixed in: 20%

DeJesus has been the centerpiece of many a swirlin' trade rumor throughout this offseason and the last season altogether. His name surfaced in rumors with the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers. However, in December 2007, General Manager Dayton Moore refuted such claims, and indicates that DeJesus is likely headed nowhere.

Despite his disappointing 2007, DeJesus has been remarkably consistent over the years. He has never been and will never be a formidable power threat. However, he gets on base, draws walks, doesn't strike out much, and is a solid contact hitter, and runs well, which makes him a viable leadoff candidate. Unfortunately, injuries have taken a slight toll on the 28-year old over the years, beginning (of course) with the Tommy John Surgery in 2001 and continuing with shoulder problems. His style of play is remarkable. He pushes his body to the limit and always gives maximum effort. Therefore, he is an injury risk. However, as David enters the second year of his prime, it is safe to argue that he will rebound and post numbers that rival those of 2005 and 2006, rather than 2007. Even the most cynical of Royals fans can reasonably expect 10 stolen bases, 30 doubles, and a .280/.360/.400 season from the lefty.

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