Lifelong outfielder Joc Pederson has been taking ground balls at first base. It’s something he’s done in the past but never became relevant as he has zero career innings at the position.
This isn’t the first time, but the Dodgers are working out Joc Pederson at first base. This looks more serious than the past, with manager Dave Roberts supervising.
— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) June 18, 2019
This time, it’s going to be different as manager Dave Roberts said Pederson will see some time there when outfielder A.J. Pollock returns to the team.
On the surface, it’s a confusing move. The team already has a star at first baseman in Max Muncy and if they wanted an outfielder to play first, Cody Bellinger is one of the best defensive first basemen in baseball.
As weird as their decision may seem, it makes a lot of sense for them on the offensive side and defensive side of the game.
Why Joc would be the one to leave the outfield
When Pollock returns, the team is going to have four players who deserve to start in the outfield. They can’t take their bats out of the lineup so they will have to get more creative.
The easy plan would be to move Cody Bellinger to first and plug Pollock into the outfield. The problem there is that weakens the outfield defense by a significant amount to gain an edge at first, arguably the easiest position to play. Roberts also said moving Bellinger to first would be unlikely due to his recurring shoulder injury.
This season, Pederson ranks as an average defender in left field and has a track record of being near the bottom, according to Baseball Savant’s catch percentage added (how many plays they make compared to how many they’re expected to make).
Pollock has been far worse, ranking 128 of 156 with a -4 percent catch percentage added (minimum 25 chances), but he has a strong track record of being a plus defender. They also aren’t going to bench or move Pollock after signing him to a long term deal over the off-season.
On the other hand, Bellinger has been among the best defensive outfielders in baseball and Alex Verdugo has been slightly above average in center field. They can’t afford to take either of them out of their outfield without a significant defensive loss.
A move to left field could help Pollock regain some of his defensive value, which pushes Pederson out of the outfield or into a platoon with him. A platoon between them would make sense, but it’s also unlikely Andrew Friedman envisioned that when he signed Pollock.
Why Joc at first base makes sense
The Dodgers have a hole at second base against right-handed pitchers. Both Kiké Hernandez and Chris Taylor have not lived up to expectations, especially when facing right-handers.
To help fix that, the Dodgers have been using Matt Beaty at first and sliding Muncy over to second. The results have helped them, but they still aren’t ideal. With the bat, Beaty has been 23 percent below average and he isn’t a strong defender either.
Using Pederson at first would give them the offensive production they’ve been lacking from the non-Muncy players on the right side of their infield. It would also allow them to use a platoon at first with David Freese, since Pederson can’t hit left-handers, while still keeping Muncy as an everyday player.
Freese could also mix in for starts at first against right-handers while Joc goes to left field to give Pollock rest. But he has also thrived in a bench role and they might not want to mess with that.
Hernandez would return to the utility role he has excelled at and Taylor would continue to fill in at shortstop until Corey Seager returns from his injury. When Seager is back, Taylor could backup Verdugo in the outfield and Seager at shortstop.
It would be a big boost to their offensive production and if Pederson is passable at first, it might even make the defense stronger.
Projected Defensive Lineup:
C: Austin Barnes #FreeWillSmith
1B: Joc Pederson vs. RHP / David Freese vs. LHP
2B: Max Muncy
3B: Justin Turner
SS: Corey Seager (Taylor until Seager is back from the IL)
LF: A.J. Pollock
CF: Alex Verdugo
RF: Cody Bellinger
Bench: Russell Martin, Kiké Hernandez, Chris Taylor, David Freese / Joc Pederson