It’s been an up-and-down ride for Joc Pederson since the start of the 2017 season.
You remember, right? He hit a grand slam on opening day in an eventual rout of the Padres. He was entering his third full season as a major leaguer and primed to breakout. This weblogger even predicted he’d hit 33 home runs.
Then, he tinkered. And he tinkered. And he tinkered yet again. He tinkered himself all the way to Triple-A, where he didn’t fare particularly well (.169/.225/.323 in 71 plate appearances). He limped to the finish line of the regular season and was left off the National League Division Series roster. After Corey Seager was a surprise no-go for the NLCS, Pederson (essentially) took his spot. He went 1-for-5 with a double against the Cubs. Still, he was included on the World Series roster, and that’s when he really took off.
He hit three home runs en route to a
World Series MVP very nice World Series performance against the eventual champs. It seemed like things might be turning around.
The 2018 began with Pederson hitting well (138 wRC+) in April, but not hitting for much power (.169 ISO). Then May came and he slumped big time. He posted just a 64 wRC+ and it looked like he might be heading back to the minors – at least, he would have if Andrew Toles had been healthy and Alex Verdugo had impressed enough.
Through the end of May (150 plate appearances), Pederson had an almost-average 99 wRC+ and a modest .246/.333/.385 triple slash line. This wasn’t the guy we were used to seeing. Pederson had grown into one of the most prolific Three True Outcomes hitters in the game. He was still walking (11.3 percent), but he had reduced his strikeout rate by roughly six percent from 2017, and his power had also disappeared. He had just one home run through the season’s first two months. Then, June happened.
Like many Dodger hitters, June has been the month for Pederson. He has an MLB-best 373 wRC+ (minimum 30 plate appearances) and seven home runs. The funny part is, he has yet to draw a walk, but he also has only three strikeouts. Overall, Pederson is running a career-low 14.4-percent strikeout rate. With his power returning (.275 ISO), that is a more than acceptable number.
Pederson has, seemingly, finally settled on a batting stance and is sticking with it. His big problem would be to tinker with his stance and swing in the past when he got into a slump. While there are times to tinker and adjust, Pederson would take that to the extreme. Beyond the Box Score chronicled it in May 2017 after Pederson came off the disabled list.
And here are his stances from June 2018.
All pretty similar, no? He has his front side slightly open with his hands and bat angle in similar positions. Well, take a look at a couple of his plate appearances from April and May.
He tinkered. Again. Let’s hope hitting coach Turner Ward and assistant hitting coaches Brant Brown & Luis Ortiz can keep Pederson with this stance and swing because it’s obviously working for him.
I don’t know why he tinkers. It’s maddening. But when he’s on, he’s as dangerous as almost any hitter in baseball because he has a keen eye at the plate and massive power.
He’s not going to keep up this pace or anywhere close to it. But the changes he has made this month have been apparent and are obviously helping. He’s capable of being a 140 wRC+ or better hitter. That would mean he’s 40 percent better than league average. Of course, he’s just as capable of being a 90 wRC+ or worse hitter when he’s not on.
Pederson has been a tale of two hitters throughout his career. Right now, we’re seeing the good Joc Pederson. If history is any indicator, we’ll probably see a reappearance of the bad Joc Pederson before the season ends.
One of these days he has to get it. Right? I know it’s easy to say that sitting at a computer monitor, but if he sticks with one stance, setup and swing, he’ll be more consistent and probably have a much longer and more successful career. Until he does, though, he’ll be known as one of the streakiest hitters in recent Dodger memory.
For now, though, I’m enjoying the good Joc.