Last season, Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson took baseball by storm in the first half of the year only to fall on his face offensively during the second half. Still, despite that, Pederson finished his rookie campaign with a .763 OPS and tallied 2.8 Wins Above Replacement.
Despite a brutal second half that saw him only OPS .617 and strikeout 63 times in 219 plate appearances, Pederson could be one of the bats that helps decide the National League West race. If the Dodgers get First Half Joc, they’ll be a force. If they get Second Half Joc, they could be a wreck.
The Dodgers believe the 23-year-old center fielder is too talented to let that happen again, but he needs to make adjustments to exploit his skills. In early-attack mode, Pederson hit .386 and slugged .841 on 44 first pitches put in play, and .432/.838 on 1-0 counts. With two strikes, he fell to .140, striking out 170 times with 44 walks. Patience is a virtue, but pitchers’ counts can bury a hitter.
Pederson hit .474 against first pitch fastballs last season so, while he wants to remain patient at the plate, perhaps turning to a more aggressive approach against early-count fastballs could yield a turnaround in his performance.
Whether or not Pederson figures out what ailed him during the second half of the season will be one of the intriguing storylines of training camp and Spring Training. The team needs him to perform, and they need him to perform well or else their season could be a dud.
The upside with Pederson is that he’s still young – he turns 24 in April – and still learning. If he turns into an Adam Dunn type with quality center field defense, even that isn’t the worst thing in the world. He just needs to find his game, and the Dodgers hope he can. Their season might depend on it.