Dodgers’ left-handed slugger Joc Pederson has never been known for a high batting average. His best value is his power against right-handed pitching and some big post-season moments.
Through the end of May, Joc was putting up some great numbers, career numbers perhaps, and was even hitting for average.
However, as solid as he looked through the end of May, Joc’s gloomy June has left many wondering why he gets so much playing time.
Joc started off the 2019 season set to be the primary left fielder for the Dodgers. It was thought that he’d only occasionally be displaced by Alex Verdugo to give him some big league time. In theory, both being left-handed, a straight platoon situation would not work. Joc’s power took precedence over Verdugo’s more “hit for average” approach. Fortunately for all except him, the slumping A.J. Pollock sustained injury and the greatness that is Alex Verdugo, has been seen. During much of that time, Joc has taken over left field while Dugie helmed center.
Joc’s Hot Start
Through May, Joc had 17 home runs and 36 RBIs. He was slashing a robust .274/.375/.663 with an OPS of 1.037. He was on pace 47 home runs and over 100 RBIs.
The month of April was a pretty average Joc month, with a low batting average, and above average home run and RBI totals (.239, 10 HR, 18 RBI). While in May he saw a slight decrease in HR and RBIs, his slash line was an impressive .323/.405/.723 and an 1.128 OPS.
He also had a very impressive 166 wRC+ during that time as well. It’s no surprise that Dave Roberts wanted to continue seeing him in the line up.
In June however, Joc has regressed hard. For the month he is slashing .154/.205/.295 with an OPS of .500. His wRC+ for the month is at 32. This abysmal month has dropped his overall numbers down to .234/.322/.540, a .863 OPS, and a 124 wRC+. While this more in keeping with his career numbers it a pretty drastic drop in just 23 games. As if going through a horrific slump isn’t enough to occupy a batter’s mind, how about a position change?
Joc is now 8-65(.123) this month with 14 strikeouts.
Maybe we didn't need to find a spot for him to be hitting more this month?
— Brook Smith (@brookme3) June 26, 2019
With AJ Pollock set to return sometime next month and Alex Verdugo’s 3 month audition for an everyday starter spot a tremendous success, Joc was poised to be odd man out. Joc’s LHP vulnerability that Verdugo doesn’t share became a glaring weakness. How do you sit a team spark plug like Verdugo who hits equally well against both left-handed and right-handed pitching? You don’t.
How do you sit Pollock who you are handsomely paying a ton of money? I guess if you’re the front office, you don’t. How do you sit one of your best (when not slumping) RHP power hitters? You don’t. Solution? Teach one of them a new position.
Joc Pederson taking grounders at first base pic.twitter.com/bbw6uhkxDz
— Blake Harris (@BlakeHarrisTBLA) June 20, 2019
Solution or Exasperation?
In mid-June, news broke that Joc was practicing at 1st base. His strong offensive start combined with a soon-to-be crowded outfield made a case that room had to be made somewhere. Apparently, Cody Bellinger who already can play 1st, is deemed too defensively valuable in right field to be moved. While it’s true Belinger’s defensive value in right field is high, his consistent offensive value makes a case that he should play first to reduce risk of injury, but that’s for a different article.
Joc has practiced at 1st before, but this time it seemed serious and on June 20th he made his debut at the position. Since that time he has made 7 starts in the position and amassed a total of 59 innings there resulting in 2 errors and a handful of otherwise awkward plays. He hasn’t been great, but with the timing of everything, can you blame him?
— We’re Nassssssty (@Dodgers_Blues) June 21, 2019
In mid-June, Joc was already in the midst of this ugly slump. It is baffling to think the front office and/or Dave Roberts thought it would be the best time to start having Joc play a new position as highly critical as 1st base. Nearly every infield hit, most double plays, and lots of pick-off attempts go through that position. A lot of those plays hinge on the ability of the 1st baseman to stretch, dig out short hops, or otherwise save poor/off target throws. This is not something accomplished in a few practices, nor is it easy to focus on when slumping so badly.
Baseball is a highly psychological sport where great defensive plays can lead to great offense, unfortunately the opposite is true as well. If the Dodgers want Joc’s June slump to end with the month they need to play him where he’s comfortable, where it’s second nature to him. He needs to be free from the mental pressure of playing a new position and not worried that he’s not playing the position as well as his counterparts would. If the Dodgers are looking for versatility, they need to look at their right fielder.