On Twitter, I jokingly refer to Joc Pederson as the “Quiet Assassin”. But, the sentiment behind this moniker is no joke. He’s having quite a season, albeit a quiet one, flying under the radar of the more high profile rookie phenom, Corey Seager. But, Joc Pederson has returned this season as a smarter, more well-rounded player.
Additionally, he’s made needed changes to his approach and continues to adapt and adjust to big league pitching. His offseason work ensuring he wouldn’t face the same problems as the second half of last season.
That Was Then
Joc Pederson’s 2015 debut season was a story of two halves. The first three months were everything you could hope for, from April 6 through June 30, the 23-year-old lefty hit 20 home runs with 38 RBI and a .911 OPS in 78 games.
This first half success earned him a trip to his first All-Star Game, along with an unforgettable performance in the Home Run Derby. Pederson bested Baltimore’s Manny Machado in the first round (13-12). Next round he edged out Albert Pujols of the (not in LA) Angels (12-11). In the final round he was beat by hometown favorite, Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier (14-15). But, all in all he hit 39 home runs. An amazing feat for any player, but especially praiseworthy for a rookie.
Joc was in every early conversation for Rookie of the Year. But, the second half of the season was a whole other conversation.
From July 1 to Oct. 4, Pederson hit .170 with six home runs, 16 RBI, a .584 OPS, and 76 strikeouts versus 37 hits in 73 games. A sharp contrast to his first half success.
Consequently, Joc ended his rookie season hitting 26 home runs with 54 RBI and a .210/.346/.417 slash line. Pederson finished fifth in the majors with 170 strikeouts.
Many wondered if Joc could make the adjustments once the big league pitchers had his number. There’s an old baseball saying,
“Getting to the big league is the easy part, staying there is the hard part“.
The question was, would that hold true for Joc?
This Is Now
How rookies deal with their struggles can be more important than how they deal with their success. It can define a player, their work ethic and their ability to adjust and adapt to the big league. Joc has made adjustments and learned from his past struggles. Veteran player, Chase Utley, who mentors the younger players, has noticed the change in Joc’s approach.
“Something is definitely clicking,” Utley said. “I think he’s kind of turned the corner. He’s got better pitch recognition now, and when he hits the ball, it’s scary. It takes off, big time.
“You can’t teach that at all. It’s just something he naturally has.” ~ Chase Utley via ESPN.com
It’s hard to not imagine that the spotlight shining squarely on Corey Seager hasn’t taken some of the pressure off Pederson as well. Seager exhibits a poise on the field beyond his years. He appears more comfortable in the spotlight and his even temparment serves him well. Pederson, on the other hand, is more mercurial and wears his emotions on his sleeve, which perhaps was an extra hinderance under the harsh glare of the spotlight, especially when he was struggling.
The Dodgers second half offensive surge came at just the right time and Joc has been contributing by putting up solid numbers. He has batted in the bottom of the lineup most of the season, along with the hot hitting duo of Yasmani Grandal and Howie Kendrick. These three have made the bottom of the lineup a force to be reckoned with for opposing teams. Combined with the sluggers at the top of the lineup they make for a potent offense.
Joc continues getting more comfortable in his role every day and it shows.
“I’m really big on mechanics and hitting position,” Pederson said. “When I get to a good position, I feel more comfortable. It definitely helps having some time in the big leagues and understanding you don’t need to do everything in one day.
“I made some mechanical changes to get my body in good hitting position. I’m on plane a lot better now, and I’m able to maintain some good posture and have a good bat path. It’s huge. I sucked last year, and I had to change it and work hard and put in a lot of time to figure it out. I’m not where I want to be, but it’s encouraging to see the improvement.” ~Joc Pederson via ESPN.com
Pederson has always been a good defensive player. He’s arguably one of the best center fielders the Dodgers have had in years. His skills and spectacular fielding kept him in the lineup last year when he was struggling at the plate. Grabbing a home run as it sails over the wall makes him a pitcher’s best friend, too.
Joc Pederson is posting the biggest 1-year improvement in contact% in more than a decade. https://t.co/BIebFAAJKz
— Joe Davis (@Joe_Davis) August 16, 2016
Joc has shown an impressive 10% improvement in his contact rate this year. Going from 66.7% in 2015, the second worst in the league, to 76.7% in 2016. Even more promising is Joc isn’t losing any power with this increased contact rate. That’s generally not the case with hitters.
Although Joc still struggles with lefties, and will often sit against them, I think it’s only a matter of time before he figures them out too.
So, as we head into the final weeks of regular season play and Corey Seager continues his lock on Rookie of the Year, let’s also take a moment to appreciate the growth and contributions of Joc Pederson. After his hot and cold season last year, many were wondering what we could expect from him this year. But, he’s quieted most of his detractors as he grows into a well-rounded player. Plus, he can hit the long ball and everybody loves the long ball. So, keep an eye on Young Joc – I predict the best is yet to come.