Joc Pederson’s dazzling defense in center field and 20 home runs along with 58 walks during the first half of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2015 season was a catalyst for the team and big reason for their first-place standing. The season opened at Dodger Stadium with a blatant celebratory inauguration for the rookie as he manned center field atop the iconic shooting Dodgers baseball logo emblazoned upon the emerald green grass. After Matt Kemp moved south in an offseason trade with San Diego, Joc Pederson’s starting job in center field for the Dodgers was only his to lose.
Now with Pederson in a slump, Kiké Hernandez swinging a hot bat and the Dodgers needing a place to put him, manager Don Mattingly has effectively made center field a platoon spot.
Ken Rosenthal cited one reason for the acquisition of Chase Utley from Philadelphia, who will primarily play second base while Howie Kendrick’s hamstring heals, was to create more opportunity for hot-hitting Hernandez to play center field in place of the struggling Pederson who has only hit three home runs since the All-Star Break:
Kendrick believed to be about two weeks away. Addition of Utley also would enable #Dodgers to spell Pederson with Kiké Hernandez in CF.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 19, 2015
Giving the 23-year old Pederson some time to reflect and adjust is a much more beneficial strategy at this point in the season rather than sending him back to the minors (you would be surprised at how prevalent of an idea this is).
With September less than two weeks away, it is too late to either send Pederson down to the minors or to make a major change in his swing. Pederson’s high strikeout and walk rate should be no surprise to anyone, but the long balls which used to come a third of the time, have now but all dried up just as the Dodgers are gearing up to defend their National League West title.
Batting average aside, Joc is still collecting a lot of free passes (22 walks in 17 plate appearances so far in the second half) with a 124 wRC+ and a 16.4 percent walk rate, and he is still providing stellar defense in center field. Hernandez is certainly a dynamic and personable player who should be worked into the daily lineup with his consistent bat, but usurping Pederson from his starting role in center field would only be a detriment to Pederson’s confidence and development as a player. Replacing Pederson with Hernandez in center field would also certainly be a downgrade defensively.
The Dodgers’ success, not only down the stretch but also in the postseason, is dependent on more consistent offense and pitching in order to fend off the reigning World Champion San Francisco Giants in their division as well their postseason rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, in October. The Dodgers need that beautifully long swing of Pederson to connect like it did during the first half. While he may not be on track to break Mike Piazza’s Dodger rookie record of 35 home runs this season, he will definitely need to rack up more round trippers in the final weeks of the season in order to contribute to his team’s offensive production.
This year’s Home Run Derby was nothing short of electrifying thanks to the rookie’s show of power at the plate, and his runner-up finish made Dodger fans proud of their center fielder, whose swing lit up Dodger Stadium like a spectacular fireworks display during the first half. While I don’t necessarily buy into the theory that Derby participants’ swings are ruined after pelting out an obscene amount of home runs, I do miss those signature Pederson home runs of late.
While Pederson’s offensive slump is certainly concerning, it is not uncommon for young players to go through some learning adjustments or slumps. Slumps are inherently intertwined within the fabric of the game, but the best players are those who can fine-tune their swing and not allow troubles at the plate to affect the entirety of their game causing detriment to their team.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly kept his faith about Joc despite his offensive dip via Bill Plunkett of the OC Register:
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.”
CONTINUE READING: Will Joc Turn It Around?