In June of 2015 Major League Baseball their rookie poster boy in Joc Pederson. The Los Angeles Dodgers rookie center fielder burst into this season as a power-hitting machine with a keen eye and awareness of the zone. This led to plenty of home runs, a high on-base percentage (despite massive strikeout numbers), a starting spot in last month’s All-Star Game, and being the front runner for the National League’s Rookie of the Year race.
But something changed half-way through this season. July happened, and now August has followed, and with it, Joc Pederson has slowed from a great rookie campaign to a batter that would normally be sent down to the minors.
The outcome became a drop from the top to the bottom of the batting order, and then a benching. Next looks like a stint back in the minors unless things change dramatically, as Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters last week, “At some point, if you hit .220 and you don’t hit homers then there’s other things that you try to do. You have to make organizational decisions.” Of course this has yet to be discussed by the Dodgers brass, but if Pederson’s trends don’t shift soon, his electric start will give way to a harsh liability for a team with serious World Series aspirations.
Granted, much like Dodger fans, Mattingly is hopeful for Pederson’s return to his earlier dominance, “And there’s nobody thinking Joc won’t hit. We all believe in Joc still and what he’s going to be able to do. It’s going to be a little bit of a learning process for him this year too.”
But how could a player who did so well in the first half of the year do so pittifully in the second half of the season? My girlfriend believes it has something to do with naming a kid “Joc”.
I mean, the first part of Pederson’s rookie season was euphoric. Pederson had a 1.057 OPS, .461 OBP, 4 home runs, 17 walks and 22 K’s in 77 April plate appearances. In May, he hit 9 homers and drew 16 more walks.
Overall, from April through June, the 23-year-old had a .911 OPS, hit 20 home runs, had a .384 OPB and a 94/55 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also had sabermetrics that ranked him among the game’s elite hitters and MVP candidates (155 wRC+, a .390 wOBA and a .282 ISO).
In July, his OPS dropped to .488. He struck out 31 times and walked only 4 times. His OBP plummeted to .229 and his sabermetrics fell too (wRC+ sank to 38, his wOBA to .211, ISO to .090). Him being in the lineup actually cost the Dodgers a half a win according to statistics, something that can’t be afforded by a team trying to hold off a dynastic Giants team in the NL West hunt.
These numbers led to Mattingly dropping Pederson from the leadoff spot to the bottom half of the order near the end of the month. Then he benched Pederson for a couple of games but that didn’t seem to help as Pederson went hitless and struck out 3 times in his return. It was his third consecutive game of that ilk as he faded from Rookie of the Year discussions.
Pederson currently has 1 home run in his last 128 plate appearances and the only power he’s shown in that time was the energizing show he put on during the Home Run Derby to finish runner-up.
Pederson is not a considered a great defensive outfielder by the metrics, making his offensive woes even more costly. But if a player can’t hit, and isn’t a great defensive player, what is there to do? According to Mattingly, not much.
“You don’t do anything. Keep going. Now is not the time to start messing with our club and what we’ve been doing all year. We’re trying to win games at this point. He’s been our center fielder all year long. We know who he is. We know what he’s going to be.”
Well, if “Donnie Baseball” believes that Joc Pederson is going to return to form than who are we to think otherwise. I mean sure, we’ve seen Pederson go from best rookie in the game to worst player in the NL West, but maybe he is ready to turn it back around. After all Mattingly, the 3-time silver slugger and former batting champ, knows hitting.
For now though, the Dodgers are surviving with Pederson being almost exactly what he wasn’t in the season’s first few months. Going forward and into the postseason, hopefully as division champs, their offense desperately needs Pederson to return to being the showcase player for the three true outcomes. Because right now the Dodgers can’t afford for Pederson not to be the rookie of the year, because if he doesn’t play like the winner, then they won’t be one.