Dodgers 2018 Player Grades: Pederson Takes Great Strides at the Plate

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Joc Pederson #31 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a two-run homerun during the fourth inning of the MLB game against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. The Dodgers defeated the Rockies 8-2. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Joc Pederson #31 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a two-run homerun during the fourth inning of the MLB game against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. The Dodgers defeated the Rockies 8-2. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images) /

Joc Pederson, affectionately known by Dodger fans as “JocPop”, has been a polarizing figure ever since his breakout 33 homer, 30 steal season at AAA Albuquerque in 2014. He even has a fan-run Twitter account that describes the results of some of his most important at-bats, @DidJocGetOut.

When he came up in 2015, he inspired Dodger fans almost immediately, making the All-Star team after hammering 20 home runs in the first half of his rookie season. He cooled off considerably in the second half though, hitting only ten extra-base hits and batting only .178.

Joc’s problems have always seemed to stem from his approach at the plate, which has lead to his becoming one of the best examples of the dreaded “three true outcomes” player. From 2015 to 2017, Pederson had the 24th-worst K% among qualified hitters at 26.6%, the eighth-highest BB% at 14.0% and 62 home runs, good for 76th in baseball during that time. While the walks and home runs are good of course, Joc’s swing for the fences approach during this time kept him from reaching a higher batting average, as he only hit .223 during this time.

But 2018 was the start of something new. While he regained his power stroke, hitting 25 home runs, slugging .522, and reaching an ISO of .273, he also did something most Dodger fans would not have expected him to have the capacity to do: He cut his K% from a three-year average of 26.6% all the way down to 19.2%.

This difference was significant in that his walk-rate also lowered below 10% meaning that while he still is hitting for power, he is no longer a three true outcomes player, at least to the same extent as he once was. Of course, I would have liked the walks to stay up at his old levels, but if he needs to sacrifice walks in order to get more extra base hits, I would say that is not altogether a bad thing. If he can bring the walk rate back up above 10% in 2019, he could become one of the more dangerous bats in the Dodger order.

While most Dodger fans didn’t see this change coming, Fangraph’s Jeff Sullivan noticed a change in Joc’s launch angle and batted ball data all the way back in early May.

"“Joc Pederson [… is] trying to hit the ball on more of a level plane. That might seem somewhat counter-intuitive, given how strong [he is], but baseball principles don’t apply to everyone the same. […] Pederson [is] trying to find the[…] most effective, consistent swing[…]. […] Pederson […] has improved his wRC+, while eliminating strikeouts.”"

This new-look Joc Pederson, who hits for power and who strikes out and walks less than ever before, is a drastic upgrade from 2017 Joc, who hit for career lows across the board, another reason why this new Joc is so appealing.

On the season, Pederson’s final triple slash line was .248/.321/.522. While this is a lower on-base percentage than he had produced in any of his previous seasons, the increased power and average numbers more than make up for this small decrease. And he did not even really have to change his entire approach to make this change happen. In fact, he actually just enhanced his best features.

Pederson still pulled the ball 42.7% of the time (his career average is 43.5%), but he managed to hit the ball harder, more often, while also hitting more flyballs. Pederson set career highs in flyball percentage, 43.6%, and in hard contact rate, 42.0%.

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Though what might be most telling is how well he hit fastballs. According to Pitch Info’s Pitch Value statistic, Pederson hit fastballs better than ever before, with a 12.6 rating against them, in comparison to a -2.6 rating against fastballs in 2017. The 12.6 rating was nearly a full 10 points than his previous career high, 2.8, which he set in 2016.

Pederson had his best season at the plate according to more traditional metrics as well. Pederson had the most extra-base hits of his career with 55, setting career highs in doubles with 27 and triples with 3.

But despite all of the gains in the batter’s box, Joc’s 2018 was not all positive. His postseason, despite high usage, was sub-par at best. In Joc’s 16 playoff games and 42 playoff plate appearances, he went 8 for 39 with 13 strikeouts.

Additionally, he was still not an everyday player. Joc could not be trusted against lefties in 2018, batting just .170 with one home run against them. He also was lacking in the clutch department, as he hit a mere .063 in “High Leverage situations” according to Fangraphs.

He also struggled against the shift, with a lower hard contact rate and percentage of hits to the opposite field in shift situations than in non-shift situations. If he can correct his, he could become even more dangerous for the Dodgers, and potentially see more ABs.

On top of that, during the regular season, Pederson stole only one base, while getting caught five times. While Pederson has not demonstrated great speed since coming to the majors, he had yet to be caught more times than he was successful until this season.

On defense, the metrics continued to dislike Pederson. Despite his making only one error on 115 plays and racking up six outfield assists, Pederson had a Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) of only 1, and an Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of just .2 according to Fangraphs.

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To sum it all up, Joc took huge steps forward (some might even call them leaps) in terms of his approach at the plate compared to his abysmal 2017 season, but his defense, base stealing, and poor skills against lefty pitching kept him from becoming one of the most reliable and best overall Dodgers in 2018.

Player Grade Joc Pederson: B+