The expectations for Joc Pederson next year will be hard to gauge. Can he somehow regain the form he had to start last season? Will he ever be able to cut down on his strikeout total? Whether it’s tweaking with his batting stance, possibly working with a new hitting coach, or a combination of factors, Pederson will need to find a way to vastly improve certain areas of his offensive game.
Entering his second full season, the Dodgers are hoping he can rebound from a poor finish to 2015, and become an integral part of their offense.
We know the timeline: After last winter’s trade of Matt Kemp, it was clear the Dodgers were ready to see what Pederson could do in the Majors. And after a solid Spring Training, where he earned a starting role, he continued to impress during the first month of the season. He hit .298 in April, with a .462 OBP and 4 home runs. His initial success prompted Don Mattingly to move him up from the eighth spot in the lineup to leadoff.
By the All-Star break, Pederson’s average had slipped to .230, but he was still getting on base at a high rate and hitting for power, with 20 bombs. He would also become the first Dodgers rookie position player to start an All-Star game.
The second half of the season was a downward spiral for Joc. His Avg. & OBP both continued to dip, as did his power numbers. By mid-Aug he had been moved back down to the bottom of the order, and was eventually replaced in the starting lineup by Enrique Hernandez. His stellar defense and an injury to Hernandez allowed him to still see some playing time down the stretch, but it was clear that Mattingly had lost some confidence in his young center-fielder. Pederson would finish the year with a .210/.346/.417 slash line, and his 170 strikeouts were fifth-most in the MLB.
With almost 50% of his ABs resulting in either a Home Run, a walk, or a strikeout, Pederson was gaining the reputation of being an “all or nothing” type hitter. He was also striking out an alarming 29% of the time. A high strikeout rate was something that Pederson has always had, even in the minors. In 2014, a year in which he won the Pacific Coast League MVP, he still struck out 182 times. But he also hit .297 with 34 Home Runs. That kind of production would at least mitigate those high strikeout numbers. Batting .210 on the other hand, magnifies them.
Pederson and the Dodgers will certainly be looking for some answers before the start of next season. What caused his drastic offensive decline? The answer may not be as simple as one thing, but rather a combination of different factors.
Undoubtedly, pitchers were making the necessary adjustments after facing him a few times, and it didn’t seem as though Pederson was able to make the needed counter-adjustments.
Many may point to his participation in the Home Run Derby as a prime culprit in his struggles. This is a popular idea with any player who takes part in the Derby and then goes on to fade a little, with the general idea being that the player’s swing is affected. And it would be an easy scapegoat considering Pederson’s second half woes. But while it’s possible that it played a role, his offensive regression had already begun before the break, illustrated by his .222 Avg. in June.