We have seen some hot garbage in centerfield this season. With or without leg issues, Matt Kemp was never a good centerfielder. Andre Ethier is a mediocre centerfielder. Carl Crawford in centerfield would be pretty comparable to Juan Pierre in centerfield without the 10,000 + innings compiled in centerfield, so poor is the right word for that. There’s a small chance that Dee Gordon is the best centerfielder on this Dodgers roster, and he’s an all star second baseman. Scott Van Slyke has been a centerfielder on this roster, no he has not played the position well.
So that position is in dire straits.
It’s understandable that people would instantly want Joc Pederson to come up and be the 2nd best OF, and a very good complement to Yasiel Puig in centerfield, he’s mashing in AAA like any Dodger fan could tell you to the tune of .327/.452/.584, and ranking in the top 25 of many midseason prospect lists. Joc Pederson’s swing has been compared to that of Carlos Gonzalez and Robinson Cano by Don Mattingly. And we’ve heard reports out of Ken Rosenthal that
Don Mattingly prefer Joc Pederson in center field, but he’s not yet on the active roster. In Pederson’s favor, there’s little doubt that he’s the best defensive option. Some within the organization worry about his minor league strikeout rate, and believe he’ll benefit from further seasoning. If Mattingly gets his way, the Dodgers outfield will become even more crowded, further increasing the likelihood of a trade.
So when the manager has lost faith in your original regular CF in Matt Kemp, and can’t take another inning of Andre Ethier in center, Joc Pederson is a hot candidate for promotion right now. However, within that little excerpt from Rosenthal lies the something a little bit troubling, that I feel hasn’t been talked about a whole lot.
Pederson’s strikeout % in the minors has risen, maybe alarmingly as he’s gotten to the higher levels of the minor league echelon. Pederson started in rookie ball, and posted a 17.4% K% in 310 PA’s. He was moved up for a short (irrelevant for the stuff we’re looking at) stint in A ball, and the K% dove to 15%, in a very small sample size (60 PA’s). Glossing over his tiny stint on the 2012 Arizona Fall League Solar Sox, he moved up to Rancho Cucamonga and posted a 16.2 K% in 499 PA’s. That was an improvement on his rookie ball stats, so there was reason to hope that he could be above average on both sides of the plate discipline pendulum, doesn’t strike out, walks a lot. 2013, he received a promotion to Chattanooga, and there were still the prospect gurus who thought he was a 4th OF type player because the Cal League, where Rancho plays, is very hitter friendly, add in the fact that most of the minor league talent nowadays lies in AA, and many prospects who were the product of the Cal League making them look good, were profoundly exposed in Chattanooga. If you add a very hitter suppressed environment and advanced pitching together, it is a good place for the best hitters in the minor leagues to actually prove themselves.
Pederson didn’t stop hitting, putting up a nice .278/.381/.497, a line good for 55% above the league average. With that came an increased BB% (13.5%), but also a very elevated 22.0% K%. He was hitting for more power, but he didn’t exactly dispel that possible narrative that he could be prone to strikeouts. It didn’t matter, he was hitting well, showing a good display of tools, and refining his game and that’s what scouts look for.
Then came this year.
See, this is what bothers me about how we sometimes go about criticizing the Dodgers. Yes, this team strikes out a lot. It is bad that they strikeout a lot. A strikeout gives you no chance to do anything else. An strikeout is an out all the time. It is okay if you are frustrated with the team’s strikeouts, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Juan Uribe, Scott Van Slyke are all posting strikeout %’s higher than their career averages, among others. Notice also, that 4/5 of those players are OF’s It is a small problem that doesn’t mean a whole lot as long as you are producing, see Uribe, Juan, Kemp, Matt. But here’s a scenario that seems to happen a lot:
Runners on first and second, no outs.
Any one of the players mentioned prior with high K% come up.
Painful inning continues.
No one scores.
But if you take into account that Joc Pederson has struck out more often at every advanced level he’s been at. He’s striking out 27.8% of the time for reference. And no one carries a .442 BABIP anywhere for a extended period of time, especially not in the major leagues, then you start realizing that Pederson, while most certainly has done great things in AAA, having a .450 wOBA is incredible against the 2nd most advanced level possibly in the world is no joke, could just as easily strikeout more often than, say, Matt Kemp. Don’t look now, but Kemp is striking out 26.3% of the time, Pederson is striking out 27.8% of the time, and Joc’s competition is far worse.
Striking out more than Matt Kemp almost certainly would lead to disaster, given the fact that he’s never been exposed on a consistent basis to refined, ready, major league pitching. All I am saying, is while Pederson could conceivably provide better defense in CF, the narrative that the Dodgers would like him to work out his struggles of making contact with the ball in AAA probably has more truth to it than simply upper management suggesting: “JOC’S ‘STRIKEOUT PROBLEMS’ IN AAA IS CODE FOR WE HAVE TOO MANY OF’S TO WHAT TO DO WITH”.