It’s been said that Joc Pederson is a dude who doesn’t upset expectations (it was me, I said that.). A true fantasy bro in a lot of ways. Not too expensive, not too popular. He does something pretty well (30ish homers), but also doesn’t show up for about 40 games a year. Why? Joc Pederson can’t hit lefties. Wait, what? It doesn’t have to make sense, you just have to believe it makes sense, science at its finest MAAAAN. With all the Mookie-drama (good enough to use, not good enough to hashtag), the fallout has been expansive and on-going. While Pederson’s under-the-radar trade to the Angels (along with Ross Stripling) had been officially nixed last week, there is still time for Dodgers to complete their quest on buying everything they can, and then filling the gaps with league-minimum commitments (which would have been Luis Rengifo in this case). While the predicate isn’t contingent on Joc finding a new home, it certainly wouldn’t hurt, and there is enough noise here to think that one day, sometime soon, Pederson could finally become a complete hitter. As soon as this year? Let’s find out…
The 2020 Razzball Commenter Leagues are now open! Free to join!
When the Dodgers went platoon-heavy (just like your mom) nearly a year-and-a-half ago, Pederson must have felt like nothing had changed. After all, he had only 23 starts against lefties as a career high in 2015, just his first full year in the majors, and then proceeded to garner just nine starts in 2016, 10 in 2017, and just two in 2018, all down to a measly 50 plate appearances last season. You’ll, of course, see this a lot; a left-handed hitting prospect brought up and used sparingly against southpaws, a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy sometimes. He could hit lefties if you’d only let him try! (Michael Conforto immediately comes to mind.) But we’re already into his fifth major league year where he’s quite obviously smashed right-handers, and done not that against left-handers, and his platoon status has all but been locked in until the end of time. So what’s going to change?
Well in this instant, not much unfortunately.
Roberts said Joc Pederson will likely play LF vs. RHP, sharing time with AJ Pollock.
— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) February 13, 2020
The Dodgers seem to know what they have, and aren’t afraid of staying with the norm. However, with the nixed trade, one must wonder if Pederson isn’t still on the block, and with a potential new team comes new possibilities.
So working within that framework, is there something in the numbers that could support the idea that if he just simply had more at-bats whether from the Dodgers or another team against lefties, he could actually hit them? Back in 2015, Pederson posted a respectable 91 wRC+ in 129 PA against lefties, at least respectable within the context of his profile being a low-contact, high-power hitter, all in his first complete years in the majors. And there’s a bit of a rub here, as in his 37.2 strikeout rate may have actually triggered this stigma, not as simply a natural result of his profile with possible room to grow. Fast forward to 2016 where he again posted a 20+ home run season, his exit velocity against RHP was 94.1 MPH, which sat a fair amount ahead of the league average of 88 MPH. Now, during that same year against LHP, his exit velocity was substantially lower at 87.8, but was still right in line with the league that year at 85.6. The real issue when comparing these metrics seems to be his launch angle. While averaging a 16.6 degrees against RHP, there was a definite lack of lift against LHP with a shockingly lower 6.6 degree angle. I think we could all agree that hitting the ball with power nets better results when in the air, not on the ground. While these examples aren’t current, we can’t ignore the numbers when he was actually still facing lefties. Which reminds me about his 2014 minor league numbers…
And look, I understand that Pederson’s swing has been tinkered with ad naseum, I mean, even a mask was used to try and help, because we’re in the future and that seems like something you should do in an age where the entirety of the world’s knowledge can fit on a handheld. His defense has even been something he’s worked on and improved, adding another reason to keep him in the lineup. But the truth of the matter is, I simply don’t believe that 375 career plate appearances is enough to tell us that Joc Pederson is not a complete hitter. In fact, when I was younger, I remember they were saying the same things about one of my favorite players: Ryan Klesko. Granted, he was no LHP-killa (great D.J. name if you ask me), but his first 400 PA against lefties, compared with Pederson, looked something like this:
It’s almost as if the modern Dodgers are channeling the mid-90’s Braves and giving Joc the Klesko treatment. In fact, this wouldn’t be too far off, as Ryan Klesko was involved in a trade to San Diego in 1999, partly due to the fact that the Braves had a platoon player who couldn’t play outfield and a trade partner in the Padres who believed differently. How did Ryan Klesko’s career numbers against LHP turn out?
Granted, this shouldn’t light anyone’s world on fire (thanks Australia!), but there’s a lot to be said about just handling yourself against southpaws and contributing 550+ PA’s a year, sans injury, instead of 400 on one side of the plate. Ryan Klesko built a pretty fine career around this fact, and I think Joc Pederson can too. He just needs another team to agree with me, and he might have found one with the Angels. So continuine valuing him as you always have, but do so with this in the back of your mind: Joc Pederson can hit lefties. He just needs to find someone to let him try.
Jay is a longtime Razzball everything who consumes an egregious amount of Makers Mark as a vehicle to gain wisdom and augment his natural glow. Living in the D.C. area, he also likes spending time visiting the local parks and feeding lettuce to any turtles he encounters, including Mitch McConnell. You can follow him @jaywrong, or read his rarely (like never) updated blog Desultory Thoughts of a Longfellow.