Pittsburgh Pirates Underrated Trade Chip: Chase De Jong
By Noah Wright
Although Chase De Jong has been good for the Pittsburgh Pirates this year, they should trade him before the floor falls out from under him.
Right-handed pitcher Chase De Jong has been solid for the Pittsburgh Pirates this year. He has primarily served as a long relief man, appearing in 19 games with 32.2 innings under his belt. He’s been pretty good, too, having a 2.20 ERA. Last year when he made nine starts, he had a 5.77 ERA. But the Pirates should try and dangle him in a trade and capitalize on him now.
Although De Jong’s 2.20 ERA might look pretty, it’s an empty ERA, to say the least. De Jong only has a 20.8% strikeout rate and 8.5% walk rate. Now sure, there are plenty of effective relievers with a below-average strikeout and walk rate. However, DeJong has given up six home runs this year, leading to a 1.65 HR/9 rate. That’s the 9th highest HR/9 among relievers with at least 30 innings under their belt this year.
De Jong’s batting average on balls in play is extremely low at .188, which is the 5th lowest among bullpen arms with 30 innings of work. It’s not as if De Jong is a ground ball machine who gets a whole lot of weak contact. De Jong’s ground ball rate is 28.6%, while his fly ball rate stands at 50.5%. Plus, he’s in the bottom 30th percentile of exit velocity and the bottom 11th percentile of hard-hit rate. Shockingly, home runs haven’t bit him more frequently than they already have.
While the batting average on balls in play is a red flag, his left-on-base rate is an even bigger red flag. DeJong has a 93.8% left-on-base percentage. When Fernando Rodney and Zack Britton broke the single-season ERA record for a reliever in 2012 and 2016, neither had a left on base rate of 90%. Even former Pirate Clay Holmes, who is on pace to beat both Rodney and Britton’s single-season records, has a 90% left on base rate, still lower than De Jong’s current rate.
Now, this isn’t to say that De Jong will fetch the Pirates a top prospect. He’s a low-leverage long reliever with a 4.95 FIP, 4.66 xFIP, 4.17 SIERA, and 4.54 DRA. No team is going to give up a worthwhile prospect for that. But this is likely the highest De Jong’s value has been since he was a prospect in the LA Dodgers’ system. Getting even a lottery ticket prospect, like a teenage foreign signee or an older change-of-scenery type guy before the rug is pulled out from under De Jong is something the Pirates should at least entertain as we approach the trade deadline.