Joc Pederson was pressing at the plate. If he shows patience in his at-bats, 2016 will be a resurgance.
Soon after their exit from the 2014 postseason, the newly formed brain trust of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi dealt Matt Kemp to San Diego and christened Joc Pederson as their starting center fielder. Suffice to say, it was a move that raised eyebrows. Pederson had only made 38 plate appearances in 2014 after being called up in September of the same year.
The Los Angeles Dodgers had to decide what they were going to do about the outfield logjam that had plagued them for two seasons. During that time, they had an aging Matt Kemp, a fragile Carl Crawford, a temperamental Andre Ethier, and a brash Yasiel Puig. On the bench was a surprisingly hot Scott van Slyke, and in waiting, was an untested Joc Pederson. It was a reality that was unsustainable.
Eventually, the 2015 season started and most doubts were quickly quelled, at least for a short while. Joc Pederson had a scorching debut, hitting .298/.461/.596 by the end of April. But as the season wore on, an unsettling trend revealed itself.
Pederson’s batting average appeared to be an apparition. The beginning of the season was the peak of his hitting performance. Likewise, it was also the peak of his power, as the chart below details his drop in ISO throughout the season.
The main factor explaining this nosedive in performance had been an impatient approach at the plate.
At the start of the season, pitchers were quick to adjust to Pederson’s swinging tendencies as they pitched low and away from the young outfielder. Pederson’s saving grace was that he boasted a patient approach at the plate. In April, out of 333 pitches seen, 238 were outside of the strike zone. Pederson swung at only 26.9% of pitches offered outside of the zone.
However, much like his batting average and ISO, another ugly trend emerged.
Despite seeing fewer pitches outside in July, Pederson swung at stuff off the plate more frequently than any other point in the season. When contact was made, it was weak, as indicated by his .090 ISO in that same month.
If we look at his zone profile from June and from July, we may find a reason for his struggles.
Not only was Pederson swinging for the fences at pitches outside of the zone, he was going after more pitches overall. In fact, Pederson went from attacking low and inside to swinging higher in the zone.
I went a step further and expanded the time frame from Opening Day to June 30th and from July 1st to the end of the regular season. Interestingly, the rookie outfielder swung less overall in the later time frame compared to earlier in the season. The results of a patient approach at the plate were immediate. Pederson went from a paltry 4.3 percent walk rate in July to a 28.4 percent walk rate in August.
Though his walk rate dipped again in September, he also posted the lowest strikeout rate of the season. Furthermore, his batting average in September was north of the Mendoza Line, after spending the previous two months with a batting average below .200. By being more selective at the plate, Pederson was striking out less and driving more favorable pitches for hits.
What does this mean going forward? Despite flaming out in the second half, the 2015 season cannot be considered a bust for Young Joc. The twenty-three-year-old hit an inevitable slump but made adjustments that paid off in the last two months of the season, though they may have gone unnoticed by some. Now that National League pitchers have seen a full season of Pederson’s swinging tendencies, adjustments will need to be made at the plate. Pederson needs to continue his patient approach and force pitchers to come to him. If he is able to stay away from outside pitches and can wait for more favorable pitches (low and inside) to land in the zone, then Pederson will be a formidable threat at the plate once again.
Edited by Joe Sparacio.
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