After being named the PCL’s Most Valuable Player in 2014, Joc Pederson was poised to be an essential asset to the Dodgers in 2015. After the trade of Matt Kemp, Pederson was thrust into the starting center fielding role. After an eye-opening spring, Pederson continued his success into the first-half of 2015. Pederson had a slash line of .230/.364/.487 to go along with 20 home runs.
Pederson became just the third rookie in MLB history to have 20 home runs before July, joining Albert Pujols and Wally Berger. Pederson’s start was good enough to get him a spot on the All-Star team, making him the first Dodger rookie since Hideo Nomo to get elected to an All-Star team.
Pederson’s success quickly faded in the second-half, as his numbers completely dipped. Pederson only hit .178 with 6 HR, a complete reversal of production from the first-half. Despite the horrid stretch at the end of the year, Pederson was able to finish with 26 HR and a spot on the All-Rookie team. Peterson also finished atop the league in average true home run distance at 421.7 feet per home run. He finished ahead of guys like Giancarlo Stanton & Pedro Alvarez.
2016 Role and Steamer Projections
Like last season, Pederson will again be the Opening Day center fielder. What remains to be seen is if Pederson will lose playing time if he does not improve off of last year. With the announcement of Andre Ethier’s injury, Pederson should be forced to stay on the field at a regular rate. Although we have not received a definite answer, I do not see Pederson playing against lefties. Trayce Thompson and Enrique Hernandez seem to be better options against lefties, so this is something we should see this season.
The Steamer projections for Pederson seem safe, as they were identical to his numbers last season. Steamer has Pederson hitting .226/.338/.414 with 24 HR and 65 RBI. These projections seem fairly accurate for a second-year guy, as they are still relatively unpredictable. They also project a .338 OBP for Pederson, which is one of Pederson’s best assets. Pederson boasted a 15.7% BB rate, which is incredibly excellent. Pederson’s rate was good enough for 7th in the MLB, just ahead of Miguel Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen!
What Could Go Wrong?
As Pederson’s struggles continued, one thing about him started to stand out. Pederson has an odd batting stance and swing, which almost mirrors some Japanese players and their high leg kicks. Towards the end of the year, we noticed Pederson start to change up his stance. Fast forward to this spring and we see the same thing again with stances.
A key thing for Pederson this season is to find his comfort zone, particularly the zone that he was in when he was an All-Star. In the second-half, we did not see many of Pederson’s rates go down, as he kept the same strikeout and walk rates, which is important to understand. Pederson has already used five different stances this spring, which shows that he is focusing too much on his mechanics. The worst case scenario for the Dodgers is definitely this. Having someone who is overly focused on not succeeding could be a disaster waiting to happen.
What Could Go Right?
The easy answer to this question is for Pederson to get back to his first-half self, but what about the Minor League Joc? Pederson was incredibly efficient in the minors, garnering an incredible slash line of .302/.405/.524 to go with 84 HR and 271 RBI. Pederson’s power in the minors was impressive enough, but his speed was just as impressive. Pederson had one 30-30 season in 2014, raising his career minor league steals number to 113 in his career.
Despite his incredible minor league numbers, Pederson only stole four bases last year. Adjusting to major league pitching is one thing, but it seems like Pederson also had trouble transitioning his speed. For Pederson, he needs to continue his adjustment to pitching. Pederson has a great eye at the plate, which is just a part of the bigger picture.
Pederson struck out 170 times last year, tying Matt Kemp for the most in franchise history. Pederson’s strikeout rate was the highest in the league, something that needs to change if he wants to raise his average up. Expecting Pederson to hit above .260 may be a stretch, but that should not determine if he can be successful.
If there was one player to compare Pederson too last year it was Chris Carter. Carter’s line of .199/.307/.417 was strikingly similar to Pederson’s, despite a worst walk rate. Carter is not a good comparison if you want Pederson to be a star, so let us make another comparison. My wish is for Pederson to resemble a poor man’s Chris Davis. Davis will hit in the neighborhood of .250-.265 with 35-plus home runs and 200 strikeouts. Davis also has an OBP of around .360, something that Pederson can obtain.
Joc Pederson showed promise like no one else early year but flattened out towards the end of the year. I believe he has the talent to reach his peak again, but can he reach that level of play again? Pederson will be one of the most interesting Dodgers’ to watch this year because of it, so let the games begin.