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What Happens to Edmundo Sosa When Paul DeJong is back?

One of the biggest enigmas on the Cardinals is Paul DeJong. The guy has flashed a power bat many times in his short career, but he’s also struggled with consistency. He’s either an All Star or an automatic out. So far in 2021, DeJong was the automatic out; .177/.277/.371 slash line with a 83 OPS+ (meaning he was 17% worse then the average player) wasn’t cutting it in a lineup that is as inconsistent as the Cardinals. A fractured rib has kept him out of the lineup since May 14; the team was expecting it would take 10-14 days to heal, but they recently stated that he took some light running on Monday and expect him to swing later this week.

The team really isn’t in a hurry to bring him back, since replacement Edmundo Sosa has been on fire. Through 46 plate appearances this year, he’s hitting an unsustainable .378/.500/.514 with an OPS+ of 190 coming into today’s game. He’s also matching DeJong’s defense in a third of the chances so far, so this is a small sample size.

When you look more into what Sosa is doing, it looks even better. Check out his Percentile Rankings and Spray Chart from Baseball Savant:

These show a couple of positives for Sosa. First off, the Percentile Rankings show he’s hitting the ball hard and he’s fast. That combination makes him the perfect slap hitter; the spray chart agrees since a majority of his hits have been around the infield dirt. When you look at his hitting profile for the season, almost 57% of the contact he’s made has been groundballs.

Secondly, he’s hitting to both sides of the field; while he’s not hitting much beyond the infield on the left side, it’s enough to keep teams from employing the shift. Even if a team were to use the shift, Sosa is speedy enough to beat out a bunt to the left side; this is something the team hasn’t been doing when the shift has been employed.

He’s not a perfect player though; that speed hasn’t translated on the base paths yet. Sosa is 1 for 3 in steal chances; this is something that should improve over time. Over his professional career, he’s 39 for 62; not horrible, but not good enough for a player this quick. I think with a little help, Sosa could swipe 20 bases a season.

He’s also seeing mostly fastballs, so we’ll need to see if he can adjust when pitchers start to challenge him more. He’s seen fastballs in 56% of the pitches thrown to him, versus 33% breaking and 11% off-speed; as he’s seeing more pitches, they’ll challenge him more with other pitches. So far, he’s hit the breaking pitches as well as the fast ball, but he hasn’t hit an off-speed pitch yet.

So if DeJong is ready in another week and a half, but Sosa is still hitting, what does the team do?

An “unwritten rule” is an injured player gets his spot back until he proves he can’t handle it. It would be a mistake for the Cardinals to follow this. While DeJong has the track record of performing, Sosa is the hot hand; I’d keep him in until he cools off because the Cardinals have shown that they need all of the offensive help; the team has scored 11 runs in the last 5 1/2 games (they are sitting 1-0 in the 7th against the White Sox).

The other option would be to keep Tommy Edman at second and move Sosa around like Edman was earlier in the season; Sosa can handle the middle infield and at least centerfield on a regular basis, with the occasional game at third and the corner outfield. Sosa is hitting better then Lane Thomas and Justin Williams, so plugging him in center with Dylan Carlson in right and one of Thomas/Williams in left would be the most productive option in the outfield until Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill are back.

Either way, the Cardinals need to be playing Sosa once DeJong is back.

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