When the Tampa Bay Rays agreed on a two-year extension with David DeJesus worth $10.5 million with a third year option, it was a strange deal right from the start. $5 million a year might not be a lot of money for other teams, but for the Rays to give that much money to a player with DeJesus’ deficiencies was quite surprising. The Rays were really committing to two years on a 34 year old platoon outfielder? Of course, the deal had its benefits as well–DeJesus was a player that the Rays had long admired, and he had the ability to be a solid contributor for them over the life of the contract. When DeJesus struggled to begin the season, however, everyone’s worst fears had been realized.
From his second at-bat on April 8th until the end of the Rays’ game on April 20th, DeJesus went 0 for 24 with a lone walk. It does not get much worse than that. Overall, he had a .119/.196/.214 line through 46 plate appearances, and he was doing this primarily from the leadoff spot. Every game against a right-handed pitcher, DeJesus would step up to the plate first and be a guaranteed out. DeJesus looked lost at the plate, and the dread only increased in Rays fans when the realized that DeJesus is also signed for 2015. Then, before we knew it, DeJesus had gotten back on track and made clear why the Rays want to keep him around.
In the first game of yesterday’s doubleheader, DeJesus drilled a solo home run and battled Jake Peavy for a bases-loaded walk, driving in both Rays runs in their 2-1 win over the Boston Red Sox. It was DeJesus at his best, but it was only the most recent example. Since he broke that 0 for 24, DeJesus now has a .348/.516/.652 line with a double, 2 homers, and 8 RBI in 31 plate appearances. The craziest thing, though, is that he has drawn 8 walks while striking out just twice. In fact, the reason stretch has gotten DeJesus’ pitches per plate appearance up to 4.68 on the year, the most in baseball minimum 25 plate appearances. DeJesus is not quite this good, but the Rays know they can rely on him to provide quality at-bats and be a valuable piece of their lineup.
A big deal was made last year about the Rays’ “swarming” offense. With David DeJesus in a Rays uniform for all of this season, he will complement that but add another dimension as well. DeJesus gives does an excellent job putting the ball in play, but he also works counts to both draw walks and hit the ball with authority. That is in sharp contrast to other Rays hitters like James Loney and Yunel Escobar, who make contact but are extremely aggressive when the opposing pitcher throws them strikes. Loney has been great for the Rays the past two years and the Rays hope that Escobar can return to his 2013 levels at the plate, but neither of them set as good of an example as DeJesus for the Rays’ young hitters. The outfielder to DeJesus’ left, Desmond Jennings, has managed a very good 23-14 strikeout to walk ratio to begin the year. That may be just a coincidence, but having a veteran like DeJesus around has to be valuable to hitters like Jennings and Wil Myers. He can only be a positive influence as both Rays outfielders hope to find the consistent plate approach that will lead them to new offensive heights.
There is a reason that the Tampa Bay Rays coveted David DeJesus for so long before they were finally able to acquire him. He makes the Rays’ lineup better through his excellent combination of contact and discipline and he could be just as valuable off the field. That is the type of player everyone wants on their team, and the Rays feel lucky to have him for at least the next two years.