Joc Pederson as George Springer as Evolving Juggernaut

The economics of keeper and dynasty leagues intrigue me because no two owners value the future equally. Given my primary league is of the keeper taxonomy, I am always thinking about the future. Given the especially miserable state of my team in said league, I’ll soon reach a point where I am only thinking about the future.

A segue of remarkably poor quality: Joc Pederson is good at baseball.

Another segue of questionably better quality: he reminds me of George Springer for reasons not entirely surprising.

Springer’s a strong kid. So is Pederson, as evidenced by Jeff Sullivan. Springer strikes outs a lot. So does Pederson. Springer also walks his fair share. So does Pederson. Springer once threatened at a 40-homer, 40-steal campaign (across two Minor League levels) in 2013. Pederson registered a 30-homer, 30-steal season of his own at Triple-A last year.

In fact, the stat lines from the first 236-ish plate appearances of each of their rookie seasons read fairly similarly:

Springer, 2014 53 237 12 30 36 1 2 0.250 0.346 0.471 0.221 0.331 32.1% 10.5%
Pederson, 2015 57 236 17 34 33 2 4 0.258 0.383 0.577 0.320 0.308 30.1% 15.7%

Vague similarities include: middling batting averages, high strikeout rates, at least above-average walk rates and at least above-average batting averages on balls in play (BABIP). Striking dissimilarities include: Pederson’s isolated power (ISO) is almost a full 100 points higher than Springer’s.

In Springer’s defense, he hit a meager .224 with nary a home run in his first 19 professional games. Pederson’s first 18 games, all recorded in 2014, saw him hit .143 with not only zero home runs but also zero runs batted in (RBI). Everyone struggles. They struggle for about 19 games*. Moreover, during his remaining 25 games, Springer hit a whopping eight home runs (staking himself to a 35-homer pace in 600 PAs) and stole four bases. Point is, Springer’s no slouch.

*Unverified claim

In an attempt to continue demonstrating vague similarities, please see below a comparison of Springer’s and Pederson’s batted ball profiles from their respective rookie seasons:

Season LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Pull% Cent% Oppo% Soft% Med% Hard%
Springer, 2014 15.3 % 45.4 % 39.3 % 8.3 % 27.8 % 43.2 % 36.1 % 20.8 % 19.1 % 41.5 % 39.3 %
Pederson, 2015 16.9 % 41.9 % 41.1 % 9.8 % 33.3 % 46.4 % 35.2 % 18.4 % 13.6 % 44.0 % 42.4 %

Lots of hard-hit balls, and even lots of medium-hit balls, too. The batted ball spray is similar as well in that almost half of all balls in play were (are) pulled. Lots of fly balls, too — and, to the author’s surprise, a general lack of line drives. Even their infield fly rates are similar. They all spell good things for power — the expected isolated power (xISO) equation with which I frequently dabble prefers balls in play of the pulled, hard-hit and fly varieties. (The equation largely validates Pederson’s power display thus far, by the way. Steamer and ZiPS are a little more pessimistic about his rest-of-season projection — perhaps, rightfully so.)

This all brings me back to Springer. Specifically, it brings me to Springer’s current season. He has been all right, trading in some strikeouts for some walks, a transaction that the triple-slash line will always appreciate. But the power, through an almost perfectly-comparable 52 games (versus his first 53 last year, depicted in the first table), has been somewhat of a letdown to his owners in terms of power.

Taking a look at Springer’s batted ball profile, he’s hitting fewer balls in play of all the important types (pulled, hard-hit, fly). It looks like more of the hard fly balls are turning into hard line drives, which is great for general hitting, but less so for rotisserie-league, purposes.

On the other hand, Springer is running, and he’s running a lot. Basically, he’s running as much as we expected him to run during his rookie season but didn’t. And herein lies our final vague similarity: Springer and Pederson both ran wild during their final Minor League years, accruing 76 stolen bases between them. Despite very apparent baserunning acumen, however, neither of them ran — have yet run — very much as rookies.

Springer is a relevant case study in regression and growth. When his rookie season ended July 19, Springer seemed to do his owners a disservice by not letting them benefit from his offensive prowess. In hindsight, however, the primary disservice was perhaps not allowing them to observe his regression. Such regression may soon plague Pederson, as predictable (or unpredictable) as it may seem.

Moreover, not all regression is necessarily negative. While Pederson likely won’t maintain a top-10 hard-hit rate for the rest of his career or even the rest of the season — or maybe he will, I don’t know; maybe he’s some humanoid reincarnation of Mike Trout — one can reasonably expect him to run wild next year à la Springer between last season and this one.

It would be a mistake to assume one player will follow the exact short-run career trajectory of another. But is it so outlandish in this case? Springer, a talented (and, given his Minor League accomplishments, somewhat generational) ballplayer, succeeded his mammoth half-season numbers by making laudable strides in his overall plate approach at the slight expense of power. He also experienced his fair share of regression.

Pederson’s elevated strikeout rate won’t make his success unsustainable, especially coupled with his elite walk rate, but it makes future success a little less predictable. The lifelong Major Leaguer learns to adapt in order to succeed, even if it means forsaking some of the sexier traditional statistics. Thus, I anticipate, perhaps way too early, that 2016 Pederson will resemble 2015 Springer, the same way 2015 Pederson resembles 2014 Springer: a more sustainable plate approach, possibly at the expense of power, as well as the reemergence of the elusive stolen base. This assumes of Pederson a certain magnitude of inherent talent, but the author thinks such an assumption is not too far, if at all, erroneous.

Thinking about a Joc Pederson that fills all five categories seems too good to be true, if not borderline scary, if not potentially illegal. This is your neighborhood courtesy remind that those home runs, however, will inevitably slow down — unless you think he is a true 45-homer 23-year-old. But would anyone mind if he traded 10 homers for 20 steals next year? Unless you’re in a points league: doubtful.

Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 8-time award finalist. Previously featured in Lindy's Sports' Fantasy Baseball magazine (2018, 2019). Tout Wars competitor. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

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Alex, given Joc’s K and BB rates, what do you think his ceiling is for batting average next year, assuming he adjusts his plate approach in the manner you suggest?