Maybe it’s shiny-new-toy syndrome. Perhaps it’s the poor batting average (.246 last year and .224 through 1,099 plate appearances in the Majors). It could also be a sizable platoon split that’s resulted in limited opportunities to date against southpaws. Whatever the reason or reasons, Joc Pederson’s ADP in NFBC drafts is just outside of pick 200 (201.95), and he’s barely cracking the top-50 outfielders selected (47th).
At his current cost, the soon-to-be 25-year-old outfielder has to merely repeat his 2016 production to deliver on his ADP after ranking as the 44th most valuable outfielder last year. It seems crazy that his ADP doesn’t bake in any potential improvement, and there are reasons beyond his youth to buy into major gains being made by the center fielder in 2017.
Pederson’s production cratered from half one to half two in his rookie season with his wRC+ dropping from 138 to 80. Overall, his 2015 season was a success, though. Having said that, because of the nose dive, it was reasonable to question how he’d respond in his sophomore season. He responded well raising his wRC+ from 116 to 129, bumping his ISO up from .206 to .249, whittling his strikeout rate down from 29.1% to 27.3% and adding 36 points to his batting average (.210 to .246).
The ISO gain was accompanied by a higher LD% (15.8% to 20.6%), lower IFFB% (15.2% to 11.1%) and more hard-hit balls (37.3% Hard% to 38.7%). If the lefty had enough plate appearances to be a qualified hitter, his 38.7% Hard% would have tied with fellow lefties Joey Votto and Kyle Seager for the 21st highest last season. That’s good company to share. It’s not the only similarity in batted ball profile Pederson shares with Votto, either.
According to the corrected exit velocity data calculated by Jeff Zimmerman (here’s an explanation of correcting the exit velocity data with a link to the corrected Statcast batted data within the article), Pederson’s 88.9 mph corrected hit speed in 2016 was actually a tiny bit higher than Votto’s 88.3 mph mark. Pederson also narrowly bested Josh Donaldson’s corrected hit speed of 88.8 mph. Now, I’m not trying to say Pederson is on the verge of blossoming into Votto or Donaldson, but in terms of putting a charge into the ball, he was on par with the duo last year. His power is legit, and as a lefty, it’s bolstered by his home ballpark’s left-handed batter park factor for homers of 120, per StatCorner’s rolling 3-year average. He slugged 26 homers in 585 plate appearances as a rookie and ripped 25 in 476 plate appearances last year, so more playing time might be all he needs to smash 30 or more this year.
The power is nice, but it’s been dragged down by his batting average. He made big strides from year one to year to in average, but his contact gains might actually be even more impressive. Pederson reduced his SwStr% from 14.0% to 10.3%, and upped his Z-Contact% and Contact% from 77.0% and 66.7% in 2015, respectively, to 84.2% and 75.0% in 2016. He chased out of the zone less frequently than the league average (27.5% versus 30.3% in 2016), and his SwStr% was just a pinch above the league average of 10.1%, so there’s reason for optimism regarding him further reducing his strikeout rate (27.3% for Pederson compared to 21.1% league average). More balls in play would should serve Pederson’s batting average well, but he’s also due more batted ball luck.
Colleague Andrew Perpetua runs xstats.org, where you can find all sorts of statistical goodies including xBABIP. According to the data there, Pederson’s 2015 xBABIP of .295 crushed his actual mark of .262 and his 2016 xBABIP of .321 also smoked his actual mark of .296. Predictably, Pederson’s xAVG of .253 for 2016 also bested his actual mark of .246. If Pederson is relegated to the strong side of a platoon again, a .250-plus batting average is well within reach even if Pederson remains the player we saw in 2016. He might not be platooned as heavily this year, though.
In the linked article from late October last year at the Dodger Blue blog, Matthew Moreno provides a quote from manager Dave Roberts indicating Pederson will face more lefties. Roberts said, “he’ll get opportunities to get more at-bats.” Obviously the Dodgers have made roster additions since then, but Trayce Thompson and Enrique Hernandez remain the potential platoon partners capable of handling the defensive duties in center field, and both were on the roster when Roberts provided the aforementioned quote.
Early last month, Chris Anders dove into the topic of Pederson deserving a chance to face lefties in a piece at Beyond The Box Score. It’s an excellent read, however some of the main takeaways for those who don’t wish to read the piece at this moment are that Pederson hits too many ground balls against same-handed foes, but his plate discipline is mostly in line with his work against righties. Anders also points out the miniscule sample-size success Pederson enjoyed from September 16th through the end of the year against southpaws after he added a facemask to his helmet in lefty-lefty showdowns.
If you haven’t already clicked the link to check out Anders’ piece, you should do so now to read some quotes from Pederson that provide context to why he made the helmet change and why there might be reason to at least partially buy into the tiny sample-size success. If Pederson faces more lefties this year, that would boost his counting stat upside. Also, it stands to reason that more plate appearances shouldn’t pose too great of a risk to his batting average since if he’s dreadful enough, the Dodgers will simply pull the plug on his lefty-lefty chances.
Pederson was able to crack the top-50 outfielders last year despite racking up fewer than 70 plate appearances hitting fifth or higher in the lineup. He probably shouldn’t be viewed as the favorite to hit lead off, but he’s in the mix. The lineup promotion to hitting atop the order — likely only against righties — would be a boon for his run scoring potential while awarding him more chances to mash taters. This is yet another potential avenue for him building on last year’s numbers, making it even more inexplicable that he’s being drafted as late as he is in NFBC drafts. Even if he doesn’t lead off, at worst he’ll continue to hit down order, and he did fine there last year.
Finally, he’s not a non-factor on the bases. Pederson stole six bases in eight attempts last year after stealing only four in 11 attempts (yuck) in 2015. Also, as Paul Sporer noted back in late January, Pederson averaged 32 stolen bases per 550 plate appearances as a minor leaguer. Double-digit steal potential isn’t a pipe dream for Pederson. The total package is very appealing, and I’d consider popping him as early as his NFBC min pick of 158 but feel more comfortable doing so around pick 175 — still two full rounds earlier than his ADP if you’re in a 12-team mixer.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.