With the bullpen continuing to struggle, a weak offense, and lazy playoff preview losses to the Braves and Yankees, thinking ahead to October isn’t particularly fun at the moment for Dodger fans. Still, with the NL West basically wrapped up, it’s important to ruminate not only what the roster will look like next month, but who will be used for each exact role.
Appropriately, we should start with the matter of who will bat leadoff. With such a surplus of sound veterans and upstart rookies, there are many candidates to consider. It’s a hard decision, but by every measure, one truth is clear: Joc Pederson should not be the leadoff hitter in the 2019 playoffs.
First, Joc has not hit consistently enough in that position this season to really warrant it. His average sits at .234 as of this writing, albeit with his expected mountain of home runs. He’s also about to hit triple digits in strikeouts for the first time since 2016. That’s not what you want out of your catalyst bat.
Joc Pederson strikes out. Our lead-off hitter goes 0-5 tonight. pic.twitter.com/ag8BX0iNLH
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) August 31, 2019
Those in favor of giving Joc a big role this October will no doubt point to his explosive performance in the 2017 World Series. In those seven games, he hit .333 and three home runs, with all five of his RBI coming on those homers. He tied a World Series record with five straight games with an extra base hit, and set one with a hit and a run scored in his first six WS games. Furthermore, that sudden barrage came just months after being demoted to the minors. It could be reasoned that, given such history, he could heat up next month in similar fashion.
I love Joc’s moon shots and childlike celebrations as he danced around the bases to this day. But in hindsight, that performance looks more and more like a classic World Series fluke. There have been many instances where a middling-to-good player suddenly erupted in the Fall Classic. Think Bucky Dent in 1978, Billy Hatcher in 1990, Pat Borders in 1992, Pablo Sandoval in 2012, and so on.
For proof, just go right to the 2018 World Series. In five games, Pederson mustered an ugly .083, via a solitary hit in 12 trips to the plate. Of course, being Joc, that one hit was a home run in game three. Yet that’s admittedly on brand for him: big power belying cumulatively substandard batting.
Furthermore, his brilliance in 2017 could reasonably be attributed to his overall streakiness as a hitter. That streaky tendency remains strong in 2019, and has been on the downturn as of late. While he had some big home runs against the Padres and Yankees, he struck out four times on Friday night in Arizona, more indicative of a particularly rough August.
Instead, I believe the Dodgers should go with Alex Verdugo. As my colleague Tim Rogers made clear, there’s a strong case for him, as he ranks near the top in executing almost every in-depth offensive statistic. Additionally, Verdugo has had two of the most indelible walk-off hits this season, one a sacrifice fly and the other a historic home run. He’s already proven he’s clutch, and ready for the biggest stage.
This isn’t to disparage Joc whatsoever, as him losing the leadoff spot (or even not making the playoff roster altogether) is more a reflection of how good upstart rookies like Verdugo, Matt Beaty and (perhaps) Gavin Lux are. I’m not sure just yet that he should be left off the roster entirely, but that will have to be decided later this month. At this rate, it would honestly be the right decision.
After back-to-back World Series where the Dodgers’ offense was rendered inert, it is imperative that they manufacture runs consistently from the opening of the NLDS to the last salvo of the Fall Classic. That mission starts, quite literally, with the leadoff spot. They can set the tone for better or worse. As it stands right now, Joc Pederson being that crucial bat would be for the worse.