Chase De Jong is coming off a career-best season in 2022, but will be on the Opening Day roster for the Pirates?
One of the biggest pleasant surprises for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season was right-handed pitcher Chase De Jong. Transitioning to a full-time relief role, De Jong had the best season of his MLB career. However, he may not be a lock to be on the team's Opening Day roster.
De Jong pitched 72.2 innings in 42 relief appearances with the Pirates last season. In these 72.2 innings pitched, he posted a career-best 2.64 ERA and his 20.1% strikeout rate was the second highest of his career. The numbers go deeper than this, though.
The veteran righty walked 10.2% of batters faced, an uptick over his 2021 walk rate and number that is higher than you would like to see. De Jong also hit a career high 5 batters while throwing a career high 4 wild pitches. He also struggled some with the long ball allowing home runs at a clip of 1.26 HR/9. De Jong's battles with control and the home run led to him posting a 4.74 FIP.
There are also peripherals pointing toward regression for De Jong in 2023. His batting average on balls in play (BAbip) last season was an unsustaiably low .222. An average BAbip is .300, and a BAbip as long as De Jong's indicates a hitter that benefitted from their fair share of good luck/defense and is due for some major regression.
De Jong also struggled with missing bats last season. He ranked in the bottom 18th percentile of baseball in chase rate and the bottom 29th percentile in strikeout rate. Opposing batters had a 39.4% hard-hit rate against De Jong and an 8.6% barrel rate, both of these were above the league averages of 35.8% and 6.7%.
When you combine last year's peripheral results with De Jong's career results prior to 2022, odds are, last season was more of an aberration than it was De Jong turning a corner. This is also something that could work against De Jong when Derek Shelton is constructing the bullpen that the team will take north to Cincinnati.
Finally, at this point of his career De Jong is a long reliever out of the bullpen. Either JT Brubaker or Vince Velasquez could pitch in this role for the Pirates, while also serving as as swing-man capable of making starts. Brubaker and Velasquez both have better stuff/a higher ceiling than De Jong as well.
While it may seem to be a bit of a surprise, De Jong making the Opening Day roster is far from a lock. When projecting the Opening Day bullpen it is easy to do without De Jong being part of the equation. Throughout the spring, De Jong is likely to be a player on the roster bubble.