I’m convinced Grey doesn’t sleep during the offseason as he compiles his rankings for the 2017 season. He’s about halfway there, which makes Bon Jovi proud, but halfway will eventually become full-way as more of his rankings are being churned out as we speak. Being the selfish writer that I am, more rankings means more of Grey’s thoughts to sift through, and more opportunity to unearth a valuable point of view that may be falling through the cracks.
For this first installment of ‘Under the Greydar’, a cloumn executed perfectly in the past by writers like Big Magoo, we turn to the law services of Joc & Cron, LLP for some advice on targets for the coming season. On top of charging me upwards of $500 per hour merely for conversation, they fittingly advised us to take a deeper look at Joc Pederson and C.J. Cron.
Pederson’s two years in the majors have netted him a total of 51 home runs. Whether or not Grey ranked him solely on career HR totals I can’t confirm or deny, but what I do know is that we don’t often get the luxury of looking at a 24 year old outfielder on a top three team in baseball flying under the radar. Grey actually notes a similar sentiment in a sleeper post he wrote back in December, so it’s fair to say Grey isn’t omitting him in the slightest, but I highlight Pederson because I can add more to the story.
Statistically, Pederson’s two seasons are very similar in terms of aggregate fantasy production, but different in terms of what is going on behind the scenes.
It may seem a bit insane, but 30 points in average, 10 RBIs, and 2 stolen bases was the difference between Joc finishing just outside of the top 300 in 2015, and just outside of the top 200 in 2016. Small differences in production can have a big impact on season end rankings.
Why I’m confident Pederson can finish inside the top 200 in 2017 is due to the strides he made in only one year’s time.
Pederson cut his swinging strike rate by 4% and his overall contact rate by almost 10%. I’m mildly surprised that a 4% cut in his swinging strike rate led only to a 1.8% drop in his strikeout rate. For comparison, Kris Bryant from 2015 to 2016 cut his swinging strike rate by 3.5%, yet his strikeout rate fell from 30.6% to 22% (Kris Bryant is really good). Pederson isn’t Bryant in the slightest, but a 4% cut in swinging strikes is very difficult to do, and something I would expect more benefits to show in the coming season.
Pederson also hit the ball harder in 2016, and had 5% more line drives, one of the single most influential factor on a player’s BABIP, as they become base hits three times more often as opposed to ground balls. It’s also a testament to Pederson’s offensive skills that he was able to make contact on pitches about 10% more often, and hit line drives at a 5% better rate. He wasn’t just making more contact last year, he was making better contact, the kind that I often see as a predecessor to even more improvement in years to come.
The one drawback? I’m a little bit concerned with how bad Pederson was versus lefties last year. Although he only had 77 plate appearances in total, a clear attempt by the Dodgers not to let him face lefties, a .125 average and one homer isn’t encouraging. Especially seeing that in 2015, he actually had better discipline and average numbers versus lefties in comparison to 2016. It’s almost as if Pederson convinced himself that he wasn’t actually good against lefties, and the Dodgers reaffirmed that by not letting him see lefties. This year, I hope to see Pederson near the 500-550 at bat mark that he lingered above in 2015, something that surely can happen with the motley that is Toles, Puig, Ethier, and Thompson. The playing time will come down to if we see any improvement in his appraoch against lefties, and how eager the front office is to get Cody Bellinger playing time.
So what’s the culmination of all this?
The 51st outfielder generally goes off the board right past the 200 overall mark, which suggests that Grey might have Pederson slightly ahead of where he finished in roto leagues last season. I would be more inclined to rank him in the 170 area, or inside the top 40 outfielders. I’m expecting something around .265/75R/30HR/75RBI, very similar to what Grey expects, but I have more hope for production in excess of this expectation. While those four categories are relatively stable, the excess value can come with an uptick in steals. 10 total would do wonders for his overall value, especially with the current landscape that steals seem to be.
Let’s be honest, the first name is much more important in law firms than the second. C.J. Cron will unfortunately get a less in-depth overview than Pederson. If Cron is the 28th best first basemen there’s a likely chance Grey would consider him more of a waiver wire option or late round flyer at this point in the offseason.
The landscape of the first base position provides a plateau of expectations outside of the trinity that is Goldschmidt, Rizzo, and Miggy. This includes guys like Greg Bird, Mitch Moreland, Brandon Moss, and Lucas Duda. Currently behind all of those (save Brandon Moss, who just signed with the Royals) is Cron. They’re all 30 HR threats, but with high strikeout rates and susceptibility to platoons. Cron on the other hand is a different animal. He’s a 27 year old .280 hitter, with a plus bat and clear potential in the power department. 22 first base eligible players finished inside the top 200 overall last season. I expect Cron to be right on the verge of this window if he can get 500+ at bats.
My interest in Cron comes from the combination of the heavy power, high strikeout first base blueprint, as well as my mildly insane thought that the Angels may not be a terrible team. I like the additions of Maybin and Espinosa, and although they won’t be near the production of teams like the Cubs and Red Sox offensively, the more Cron hits around Trout, the less I have worry about almost everything Cron does.
Prior to August 21st, Cron only batted above fifth in the Angels lineup, and to finish off the year Cron slotted in fourth or above in the Angels lineup a total of 24 times. As you can imagine, a lot of those at bats were right behind Trout, meaning ample opportunity for Cron to drive in runs. If you average out his 69 RBIs last season in his 116 games, to 150 games, we have ourselves a 92 RBI first basemen. Last year only 39 hitters had more than 92 RBIs and every single one of those players you would’ve be fine starting on your team.
Cron has a real chance to put together a .290 70R/25HR/85RBI season if he can both stay healthy and solidify a juicy spot in the Angels lineup. The high floor and sustainable average is one of the reasons why I like him as a safe flyer in drafts, especially if you combo him with a riskier player like Hanley Ramirez.
More to come from me as we dig even further into some draft data and Grey’s rankings. Going to be a great 2017. As always, feel free to comment and ask questions below, more than happy to provide a take on anything you can imagine.
You can follow Lance on Twitter, @LanceBrozdow, if you prefer to act like a proper millennial.