Following the best season of his career in 2022, what could 2023 hold for Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Chase De Jong?
After struggling with the Pittsburgh Pirates during the 2021 season, right-handed pitcher Chase De Jong was designated for assignment. This came after De Jong worked solely as a starter, making nine starts, with the Pirates.
Last offseason, De Jong reunited with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a minor league free agent. After starting the season at Triple-A Indianapolis, De Jong joined the Pirates in late April and became a mainstay in the team's bullpen.
In 42 outings with the Pirates, all in relief, De Jong pitched 71.2 innings last season. De Jong posted a 2.64 ERA and a 4.74 FIP, both of which were new career bests. His 1.26 HR/9 was also a new career best, and he walked 10.2% batters faced while striking out 20.1% of opposing batters.
An uptick in De Jong's stuff is what fueled his strong 2022 season. His fastball spin rate was in the 88th percentile of baseball while his curveball spin rate sat in the 61st percentile. Opposing batters hit just .209 off of his fastball while hitting .264 and slugging just .302 against his curveball. De Jong's slider was also an effective pitch, limiting opposing batters to a .170 batting average and a slugging percentage of .307.
De Jong most threw just these three pitches in 2022. He threw 12 changeups and three sinkers, but mostly rode his fastball, curveball, and slider. This was a significant drop off in changeup usage from previous seasons.
Another key for De Jong in 2022 was limiting quality contact. He limited opposing batters to an average exit velocity of 88.4 MPH, which was the second lowest of his career next to an average exit velocity of 88.1 MPH in 2017. He allowed hard contact at a 39.4% clip, which was a big improvement over his 46.7% hard hit rate from 2022.
Looking ahead to 2023, there should be plenty of opportunities for De Jong. It would be a surprise if he did not make the team's Opening Day roster as a long man in the bullpen. He could also be used in multiple ways by manager Derek Shelton.
If De Jong can repeat his successes from 2022 then he could begin to turn the corner as a MLB reliever, potentially emerging as a late bloomer. Entering the 2023 season De Jong should be viewed as a pitcher expected to play a big role in a Pirate bullpen that will enter the season with plenty of question marks surrounding it.