In only the second game of the season, the Dodgers faced a left-handed pitcher and sat Joc Pederson in favor of Kike Hernandez. Although members of the Dodgers’ front office, and Dave Roberts himself, have not called it a platoon, it seems pretty clear the Dodgers are going to have a platoon in center field. The question is whether they should.
As a member of the Dodgers, Joc Pederson has hit .177 with an on-base percentage of .274 against all left-handed pitchers he’s faced in his young career. Only seven of Joc’s 52 career home runs have come against left-handed pitchers. On the flip side, Kike has a career .267 average with a .362 on-base percentage, and nine career home runs coming off a lefty. While these numbers seem to point clearly in Kike’s favor, his second full season was a definite struggle.
In 2016, Kike hit just .189 against southpaws, which was actually two points lower than his average against right-handed pitchers. He did have five home runs off lefties, but two of those came in one game when he smashed two homers off of Madison Bumgarner. That was almost half of his season production coming in one game.
His 2016 production against lefties was a far cry from 2015, where Kike hit .423 with an on-base percentage over .450. The Dodgers will probably continue to start Kike in center against most lefty starters, in hopes that 2015’s production will be rekindled.
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The problem with starting Kike in center field is that he has been on a major offensive slide since 2016, and his defense in center field is nowhere close to the defense Joc can play. Joc is a potential Gold Glover, whereas Kike makes the routine plays look difficult. For example, in Spring Training, he dropped a fly-ball that would have been a can of corn for Joc. Plays such as this make it nerve-racking to watch him on defense.
In his career, Pederson has 213 plate appearances versus left-handed pitching, which is less than half-a-season of at-bats. If Joc were to get more playing time against lefties, then he could prove as adequate enough to start against them. If he continues to struggle, then it would be clear the Dodgers should start Kike or even Trayce Thompson in center field when there is a lefty on the mound.
The Dodgers find themselves at a crossroad in determining the value of Joc Pederson. If they keep benching him when facing lefties, Joc will be known as a platoon player, and they obviously aren’t paid as much as full-time players. Andre Ethier is the one exception, but the Dodgers paid him before he got exposed as a non-threat to lefties. They must also determine the trade-off for starting Kike in center, as possibly getting more production at the plate while sacrificing defense.
I think the Dodgers should give Joc Pederson all of 2017 to play against left-handed pitchers before determining his role as a platoon player. The more Joc faces southpaws, the more he will be able to get in a groove and have a better chance at success. He changed his batting stance this offseason and is locked-in with a plan at the plate to start the season.
Given the futility of Kike Hernandez, Joc Pederson would give the Dodgers a player who could possibly get on-base, play great defense, and knock one out of the field every now and then against left-handers.
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