A few years ago, Joc Pederson was one of the sexiest names in the minor leagues especially for fantasy owners. In 2014, Pederson put together a 30-30 campaign with a .303 batting average and 18% BB rate. Over the last two seasons, Joc has been mostly productive aside from a second half swoon in 2015, when the league caught up with him before he could adjust.
Last year, in particular, Pederson really began to turn the corner with regard to his production. In 476 PA, Pederson hit 26 homers, stole 6 bases, and triple-slashed .246/.352/.495. He reduced his strikeout rate to 27.3% while still walking a robust 13.2% of the time.
Most importantly, Pederson increased his skills significantly in several areas. Pederson made more contact overall (75% against 66.6%), improved with contact inside the zone (84.2% against 77%), and contact against pitches outside the zone (60.9% against 49%). Pederson also greatly reduced his SwStr%, down 3.7% from 14% in 2015 to 10.3% in 2016. With these changes, Pederson was able to maintain a comparable Hard% of 38.7% and improve on a IFFB%, which had hurt him in 2015 (11.1%, down from 15.2%).
That’s a lot of improvements in key areas and those improvements came without any adverse effect to the things that Pederson already did well. Despite the gains, Pederson is still below average in his contact profile, but is much further away from the extreme, where his K-rate would annually be 30+% and his future in doubt once his defense faded.
It is not all sunshine for Pederson though. He was riding the bench often against lefties, receiving just 77 PA and doing almost nothing in those chances with a .469 OPS. Pederson might end up being platooned again and even if he is not, there is a strong likelihood that his work against lefties will drag his full season line down. Now, Pederson’s OBP skills could play at the top of the lineup and that might be a path for a few extra at-bats against righties that could offset the loss of at-bats, if he is platooned, but we have no idea how the Dodgers lineup will be configured on Opening Day.
Pederson might just be the posterchild for the difference in value between fantasy formats (daily v. weekly lineups). In daily lineups, any platooning becomes a total nonissue, while in weekly lineups, there might be weeks where you cannot use Pederson at all because there are multiple lefties on the slate.
I think this issue is being baked into the early price on Pederson. In the newly released NFBC ADP, Pederson is the 42nd OF off the board and 193.4 overall on average. At that price, I love Pederson in either format. He is going behind Yasmany Tomas (34th), Byron Buxton (36th), Carlos Gomez (39th). Buxton is particularly alarming because he has done absolutely nothing to warrant such a selection, but that is another a conversation for another day. Regardless, I take Pederson over all three without hesitation.
Pederson has shown a willingness to adjust and improve already. He has been able to do so without sacrificing his best attributes, which are his OBP and power. Even if these improvements just hold and Pederson gets no better, then he is still plenty good enough already to return value as the 42nd OF off the board. However, there still might be room for growth from Pederson and I believe that once a player has shown the capability to adjust once, they are more likely to adjust further in the future.
In addition to some further improvements at the plate, I still think that Pederson can steal bases at this level and that might be a skill that is more fully realized by Dave Roberts and company, if Pederson assumes a role at the top of the Dodgers lineup. He stole 6 of 8 last season when he was batting mostly in the bottom third of the lineup. His athleticism, which is at the core of his excellent defense in center field, is unquestioned.
In fact, the base-running might be all Pederson needs to jump from third or fourth fantasy outfielder, to a top 25 OF.
That is why I like Pederson so much. He has a skillset that is sustainable and proven to be a top 40 value among OF eligible players. There are multiple paths to fantasy improvement: (1) further gains at the plate; (2) gains on the basepaths; and (3) a better role in the Dodgers’ lineup. When you have multiple paths, you have three tickets in the raffle as opposed to one, it makes it more likely that you will cash in.
My projection: 550 PA, 29 HR, 85 R, 65 RBI, 14 SB, .242/.357/.468