When the music stops at the beginning of or during the 2021 season, will DJ Stewart have a chair?
After his own crazy season inside baseball’s own crazy 2020 season, will Stewart’s brief but remarkable offensive display last summer carry him back to the roster next season?
In an outfield that includes Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, a returning Trey Mancini (who could be at first base) and is awaiting the arrival of Yusniel Diaz, will Stewart find a spot?
These are great questions and worth pondering after his bizarre season. One that included a large amount of run production over a nine-game stretch and very little over the rest of his games. Stewart’s final line in 31 games and 88 at-bats showed that he hit .193/.355/.455 with an OPS of .809.
If you like the three true outcomes of walks, strikeouts and homers, this was your guy.
He made the opening day roster. but went 0-for-14 through eight games and was optioned to the alternate camp on Aug. 5. Stewart did walk six times, so his batting average was .000 but his OBP was .300.
He would finally return to the roster Sept. 1, but in his first two games back extended his struggles to 0-for-16. But now with nine walks, he was batting .000 with an OBP of .385. But then he hit two homers on Sept. 5 against the Yankees, and days later, fans would be calling him “The Babe.”
Over nine games between Sept. 5-14, Stewart went 13-for-33, batting .394/.444/1.061. He homered seven times and drove in 12 runs. He homered in three straight at-bats Sept. 5-6 and in four consecutive games. He homered in six of the nine games in this stretch.
He was rolling. Until he wasn’t. And after that stretch, he was not.
In his last 12 games starting Sept. 15, Stewart went 4-for-39 with 16 strikeouts and nine more walks, batting .103/.271/.128. So Stewart hit seven homers over that torrid stretch of 33 at-bats, but none in the 16 before or 39 after.
Was his season strange? The strangest, yes.
On the one hand, we can look at that torrid stretch and ponder a future slugger that lives up to the promise of a first-round draft pick. He was exactly that when the Orioles selected him No. 25 overall in the 2015 draft out of Florida State, where he was the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore. On the other hand, outside of that nine-game run, he went 4-for-55 with 26 strikeouts.
But Stewart can control the strike zone and has always had a good eye. He played in just 31 games and finished 12th on the team in plate appearances, yet led the club with 20 walks. And he had three multi-walk games. His 17.9 walk rate was the best on the club and would rank seventh-best in the majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify for league leaders.
But his strikeout rate of 33.9 was tied for the worst on the club with Chance Sisco. Just too much swing and no contact. But that was also well above Stewart’s career mark, which increased after this season to 25.2.
Yet mostly due to about 10 days of the shortened season, Stewart finished with an .809 OPS and tied for fourth on the club in OPS + at 121, behind only José Iglesias (160), Mountcastle (140) and Santander (138).
The power display was a career outlier, albeit one of 301 plate appearances. The seven homers Stewart hit in 2020 in 33 at-bats is matched by the seven he has in the other career 221 at-bats.
On defense, we’ve seen him make some good plays, but no doubt a few poor ones have been mixed in. Stewart runs fine for a stocky guy, but in Statcast numbers, he rated below-average in sprint speed, outfielder jump and outs above average.
Looking ahead to next season, Stewart could use a big spring training. He’s going to need to prove his game can find some level of consistency. The competition for outfield spots is getting tougher and tougher in Baltimore.