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Joc Pederson: What's ahead in 2016

Joc Pederson: What's ahead in 2016...Can he be a key puzzle piece to a successful postseason?

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by R.J. Abeytia

Joc Pederson stepped onto the field at Dodger Stadium in 2015 as the first of the Dodgers’ “Untouchable” Trio of Prospects (Messrs. Seager and Urias also included) to break through and establish a regular role with the big club.  And to say he established himself is putting it lightly. To wit:

Months

Slash

wRC+

wOBA

HR

K%

BB%

Apr-Jun

.244/.384/.527

152

.388

20

29

17

    Putting it bluntly, Joc crushed it in the first half of the year.  Yes, the strikeouts were always there, which is a point we’ll be addressing shortly, but those numbers are fantastic, by any measure.  For perspective, only seven players finished with a full-season wRC+ better than Joc’s 152.  That’s seven players in all of major league baseball.

    And then came July.  And August.  And the September/October.

Months

Slash

wRC+

wOBA

HR

K%

BB%

Jul-Oct

.170/.300/.284

70

.268

6

29.1

14.2

    Oy.  It’s not like we’re uncovering anything new here, but this is such a wild swing in productivity that it goes well beyond the phrase “cooled off in the second half.”  Joc’s bat was frozen. Like Han Solo in the carbonite frozen.   But what exactly happened here?  After all, it’s not like Joc suddenly failed to put the ball in play, as his K Rate remained essentially unchanged.

    So let’s look at where the ball was going when Joc did hit the ball in the second half.

Months

GB/FB

LD%

Pull%

Center%

Oppo%

Hard%

Jul

1.45

14

46.6

27.6

26

28

Aug

.80

10

35.5

42

22

32

Sept/Oct

.72

16.4

38.2

35

27

27

    The first category seems like a good place to start in terms of the autopsy.  After July, Joc stopped lifting the ball by a significant margin.  Skipping to the last column, Joc’s hard-hit ball percentage plummeted from a June rate of 53.1% which was most likely unsustainable, but the bottom line is that Joc stopped getting the ball in the air, and he stopped squaring up the ball.

    Joc can’t be accused of getting overly pull-happy, as his pull rate decreased significantly in August and then settled at 38.2%.  August was aweird month for Joc, as even though his power dissipated he was still able to get on base via the walk.  His walk rate of 28.4% was the highest by far in the last three months.  That helped him put up a 100 wRC+ for August, bracketed by a July in which he posted a staggering 37 wRC+ and then Sept/Oct. where he ended at 81.  

    So what about his approach at the plate?  Let’s take a look at what Joc was swinging at over both halves of the season.

Months

O-Swing%

O-Contact%

Z-Swing%

Z-Contact%

SwStr%

Contact%

Apr-Jun

26.4

45.1

66.2

78

14.3

66

Jul-Oct

28

54

64

76

13.6

68

So, as we’ve talked about all along, Joc didn’t really stop making contact.  The biggest jump in this table is in contact made out of the zone.  Joc essentially put more bad balls in play than he did in the first half, and it’s tough to make a living on balls outside the strike zone.  Interestingly, he did swing at more pitches outside the zone, but not by a tremendous amount.  These numbers argue that Joc may have been better off swinging and missing at times, at least the times when he was leaving the zone to hit the ball.

    So pitchers got Joc to put more bad balls in play, and to put more balls on the ground.  Those are the biggest contrasts when you look at plate discipline and batted ball profile. So how did they induce these results?  Let’s look at how Joc was pitched.

Months

FA%

FT%

FC%

FS%

SI%

SL%

CU%

KC%

Apr-Jun

33.5

14.7

4.8

1.7

5.6

12.7

8

4

Jul-Oct

33

12.1

7.1

1

6.6

18

9

2.3

    So what caused all those ground balls and swings outside of the zone?  Well, pitchers made some slight adjustments with fastballs, increasing the amount of cutters that Joc saw and throwing fewer two-seam fastballs.   He saw a bit more sinkers, but the real increase was with sliders.  Pitchers keyed on this pitch, which would align with Joc’s increased departure from the zone.  A good slider (none backdoor variety) starts in the zone and leads you out of it.

Now that brings us to this year.  Joc has been working on a number of different stances and strides.  As spring has progressed, he's gone back to an approach that's closer to what we saw last year. What we do know is that if he's going to have a 2016 that's closer to the first half of his 2015 than the second half, he's going to have to consistently stay in the zone and find a way to make more solid contact.  The K's are always going to be part of the equation with Joc, but if he can get back to squaring up the contact he does make, there's no reason to think that he can't return to the All-Star level he was at through June. 


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