Should the Dodgers Platoon Joc Pederson?
By Chris Harris
The Dodgers have hidden Joc Pederson from left-handed pitching early on this season. But should they?
To most of us, Platoon is a pretty good Vietnam War movie out of the 80’s, but to baseball players and savvy fans out there, it’s a dreaded label that means a player hits right handed pitching better than left or vice versa.
For example, it’s not uncommon for left-handed hitters to struggle against left-handed pitching. Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier has gotten a lot of flak in the last few years for his inability to get it done against lefties, and as a result, has seen less and less time against left-handed pitching in an effort to play to his strengths.
Which brings me to Joc Pederson, another left-handed Dodgers outfielder that finds himself in a similar situation.
Pederson, as you’re probably aware, is the former top prospect currently playing center field for the Dodgers. On the season, Joc has only seen lefties in three out of his forty-two plate appearances. He’s started all but four of the Dodger’s games this year, and those four games…were all against left-handed starting pitchers, with one each against Robbie Ray and Patrick Corbin and two against Madison Bumgarner.
Those three can all be tough matchups, but I’m beginning to see a pattern here. Should the trend of shielding Joc from left-handed pitching continue? Let’s look at the numbers.
In 2015, Joc’s rookie year, his platoon splits actually weren’t all that severe. He posted a .784 OPS in 456 plate appearances against right handed pitching and a .691 OPS in 129 plate appearances against southpaws. For what it’s worth, he ended up with a slightly higher batting average against lefties (.216) than righties (.209). A .691 OPS isn’t ideal from any player, but it’s not the night and day platoon splits you see from some players, and his defense somewhat makes up for the lack of offense.
If you go back even further to 2014, the height of Joc’s minor league powers, he actually hit lefties really well. His .995 OPS vs lefties barely trumped his .980 OPS against righties.
Getting back to 2016, he has only had three plate appearances against lefties with no hits or walks. This sample size is small enough to completely disregard it, and gives us next to no clue as to his lefty hitting skills.
When looking at who replaced Pederson in center field, it looks like he has been a victim of the Dodger’s (brace yourself, front office skeptics) depth. The only other players to man center field have been Enrique Hernandez and Trayce Thompson. Both are right handed hitters whose platoon splits suggest that they hit lefties well, with Hernandez being downright legendary at it.
At just 23 years old and only in his second full major league season, Pederson is still developing as a hitter. All offseason and spring we’ve heard reports of and seen that he has experimented with adjustments to his hitting mechanics, which are still a work in progress. On the season, his mechanical tweaks have netted him an improved .263/.333/.500 slash line, so he’s seen some success early on.
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Not every left-hander the Dodgers face will be on Madison Bumgarner’s level, and there will be enough at-bats to be had for both Hernandez and Thompson outside of center field. Pederson should be given the chance to try out his adjustments against major league level left-handed pitching, because if not, he will never develop into the dynamic offensive outfielder that the Dodgers hope he can become.