Can Joc Pederson Continue His Early-Season Success?
Entering 2015, a young outfielder who nearly posted a 40/40 season in the minors had some drool-inducing potential based on his power numbers in the Majors last year and his impressive minor-league numbers: George Springer.
Throw in the drama surrounding the Cubs' Kris Bryant, and it's understandable that another young outfielder -- aside from Springer -- with serious breakout potential had gotten a bit lost in the preseason discussion.
Springer nearly posted a 40/40 season in the minors, but Joc Pederson owned a 30/30 minor league season of his own, and he's realizing his potential early in the season.
Pederson turned 23 years old less than a month ago, and alongside Bryant, he's an early front-runner for National League Rookie of the Year honors. The strapping, athletic Joc's support has not only helped lead the Dodgers to the top of our power rankings as the best team in baseball, but he's also been balling out for our fantasy teams as well.
Low-hanging puns aside, he's been really good this year. He currently ranks sixth in the Majors in home runs with 10, third in walks, 23rd in runs, 25th in on base percentage, 22nd in slugging, and 18th in OPS. He's also the lead-off hitter for the highest-scoring team in the National League.
We Should Have Seen This Coming
Last year, he ranked as a top-15 prospect before having a monstrous season in AAA during which he hit 33 home runs and stole 30 bases while posting a .303/.435/.582 slash line. To give you a better idea of just how special that is, this was the first 30/30 season the Pacific Coast League has seen in more than 80 years. During the previous year, he hit a respectable 22 home runs and stole 31 bases with a .278/.381/.497 slash line. The year before that: 18 home runs, 26 stolen bases, and a .313/.396/.516 line.
So, while it is easier to steal in the minors, it's good to see that he consistently hovered around 30 stolen bases per year throughout his minor league career. The power numbers jumped by 22% in 2013 and then by 50% in 2014. The progressive increase in power is reassuring to the numbers he's been putting up this year. While it might not mean much, so too were his spring training numbers, where he finished tied for third in home runs with 6 in 65 at bats, while stealing 3 bases and posting a .338/.377/.692 slash line.
2015: The Good and The Bad
Joc's been putting up solid numbers all year, but they're kind of weird too.
Currently heâ€™s hitting .233 with 24 runs, 10 home runs, 21 runs batted in, 2 stolen bases, and a .388 on base percentage in 116 at bats.
While he does rank sixth in the Majors in home runs (10) and third in walks (28), he also ranks seventh in strikeouts with 45. Even more troubling, perhaps, is the fact that 10 of his 27 hits for the season and eight of his last 13 hits have been home runs. These numbers are representative of a hitter who fits the "three true outcomes" profile. The three true outcomes are walks, strikeouts, and home runs. The importance here being that these outcomes are not dependent upon defensive play and are solely representative upon the skill of the hitter and pitcher. Adam Dunn is perhaps the perfect example of a hitter who lived primarily in these three statistics.
Ryan Howard, George Springer, and Chris Davis are three current hitters whose numbers fit this mold. Springer and Pederson, however, do not resemble the brawny lumbering power hitters who typically fit this profile. Whereas, Springer posted similar numbers throughout his minor league career, Joc is in new territory.
In 2013, in double-A, he had a 13.5 BB%, a 22 K%, and an ISO of .219. In 2014, in triple-A, he had a 18.1 BB%, a 26.9 K%, and a .279 ISO. Currently, he has a 19.4 BB%, 31.3 K%, and a .313 ISO. While he never walked, struck out, or hit for power as much now as he did in the minors, these numbers have increased gradually each year. Perhaps we can expect these numbers to drop, or perhaps he is falling more in line with the player he or his club had had hoped he would become. Indeed, many Major League clubs have started to value on base percentage and power over average and K%.
Although he has six home runs in the month of May, during that time he's also struck out 23 times in 55 at bats and hit for .182 average. For the season, he has a 37% HR/FB ratio. To put that in perspective, the average HR/FB ratio is 9.5% and the elite hitters typically have a ratio of 20%. There's no way his current ratio is maintainable. Also, after two consecutive minor league seasons with at least 30 stolen bases, Pederson has stolen just two bases on six attempts. In 2013, his SB% was 80%. In 2014 his SB% was 70%. Currently, his SB% is at 33%.
From a real-baseball standpoint, he really has been great. Joc currently ranks 10th in the NL in WAR. Fellow rookie Kris Bryant ranks 26th. So, he should indeed be the early favorite for NL Rookie of the Year honors.
From a fantasy standpoint, despite some good numbers, there is reason to expect a dip in production, yet I'm not sure it's time to sell-high on the young rookie with tons of potential.
While his home runs -- and therefore his HR/FB ratio -- should drop, he should still be productive in that category. His BB% might drop as well, but he's always hit for a high on base percentage so the cliff shouldn't be too steep. I'm not sure what to expect with regard to his production on the basepaths, but based on his success in the minors there is reason to expect these numbers go up. He also has currently holds a .293 BABIP, which, as opposed to his .385 BABIP last season in the minors, means he's been pretty unlucky this year. So it's not unreasonable to predict he starts hitting for a better average as the season goes on.