Dodgers: Weak link Joc Pederson needs to right the ship

May 5, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson (31) looks on before the game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
May 5, 2017; San Diego, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson (31) looks on before the game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

Joc Pederson was one reason why the Dodgers were supposed to have an explosive offense in 2017. While the team is starting to score runs more consistently, they are doing it without him.

Pederson is making me eat my words right now, and not in a good way. I believed that he was on track to take another step forward in his development this season but the 25-year-old has actually gone in reverse so far. I pegged him to hit the 30 home run barrier, improve his overall slash line, and be a large reason why the Dodgers‘ lineup would be one of the deepest and most explosive around. One reason was how he finished the 2016 season.

In his return from the DL last year, he played in 62 games and had 12 home runs with an elite .900 OPS. That was a very promising sign. But so far not good on his front.

While there is a lot of baseball yet to be played, we have seen a fair amount to make judgments. The Dodgers have played over a quarter-of-a-season worth of games so we cannot keep using the “small sample size” or “it’s still early” argument.

The only good things you can say about Joc are that he’s been consistently solid (not elite) on defense and is hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP). He is 6-20 with RISP with his only home run and two doubles. But after that, everything is negative.

Pederson missed some time due to a groin injury but has still played in 30 games. In those 30 games, he has accumulated an abysmal .207/.308/.304 slash line with just one home run. What’s even more concerning is his power or lack thereof.

After hitting a combined 51 home runs over the last two seasons, he only has one in 2017, and his slugging percentage is on the brink of falling below .300.  He is the easiest out from all the regulars and even bench players like Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez have been more valuable and productive. It hurts to say but it must be said because it is true:

The Dodger offense has become more dangerous and consistent, and it has come with him not contributing at all.

What exactly is wrong though? Most of his peripherals show that he should be playing better. His strikeout rate is lower than the last two seasons, contact rate is better, and has seen less than 50% of first pitch strikes. This means he is getting ahead in the count 1-0 more than he’s falling behind 0-1. He is also making less soft contact, and his BABIP of .290 is just below the league average of about .300 (which means he hasn’t been unlucky.

Pederson isn’t a guy who you would or should expect to see hit for a high average, but he’s shown the capability to hit above .250. He is a player that you judge more on OPS than batting average and this is because he walks a lot and has tremendous power. Well, he is walking less than his first two seasons and has not shown the ability to hit for extra bases much. This has all translated to an ugly .612 OPS (after .847 last season). Even when he gets on base he isn’t helpful; he has zero stolen bases.

More from LA Dodgers News

The two biggest problems that have presented themselves are his types of contact and his launch angle. He is making less hard contact and his launch angle is lower. This is leading to much fewer fly balls and more ground balls, which in turn have transformed into a lot of ground outs and quite a few double plays. He needs to start putting the ball in the air more, but he can’t seem to do that. This is te only way he will beat the shift that teams play against him.

His average launch angle is 10.51 degrees which is below the major league average of 12.92 and below last year’s when it was in the high teens. The best way for him to take advantage of his raw power is to put flight on the ball which would lead to home runs and extra bases in the gaps via line drives. Other than that, I do not know what else can possibly be wrong.

He is in danger of becoming more of a strict platoon player than an everyday player. We all want to see him develop into a premier center fielder, but if he can’t hit, how can he? The Dodgers have a glut of outfielders they’ll have to deal with in the near future so if Pederson doesn’t show any kind improvement this year, he may soon become expendable.

Next: Four Players That May Be on the Trade Block

It doesn’t help that top prospect Alex Verdugo is a center fielder waiting in the wings for a crack at a spot on the Dodgers’ roster. We’ll just have to wait and see because patience is key.