Joc Pederson: Boom or Bust, but Mostly Boom

There was a small but vocal contingent of Los Angeles Dodgers fans during this past offseason who thought that Joc Pederson‘s performance in his September callup last year — just four singles in 28 at-bats with 11 strikeouts — was more indicative of his true talent level than the .302/.405/.524 he posted in 441 minor league games consisting of 1,953 plate appearances. These people also seemed to be living under the delusion that Matt Kemp was still capable of being a Major League center fielder.

Here is a good example tweet:

It wasn’t just our communication-challenged friends on Twitter, though. Look at this quote from Alec Dopp of Gammons Daily, written after two (2) (!!!) games this season:

That being said, Pederson’s bat hasn’t quite lived up to the hype thus far. After making his big-league debut as a late-season callup on September 1 with Los Angeles, the former eleventh-round pick proceeded to slash .143/.351/.143 (.494 OPS) over 38 plate appearances throughout the final month of the 2014 regular season, and through eight plate appearances to begin the 2015 season, his OPS sits at .536. This gives him a .505 OPS to begin his pro career. Oof.

Well, I have good news for everyone!

What has changed for our representative tweeter? After all, one of his main concerns was Pederson’s strikeouts, and Pederson is on pace to strike out about 200 times this season. I guess Arendt can live with that since Pederson is also on pace to hit 54 home runs and both score and drive in over 100 runs — from the leadoff spot.

Joc does not get cheated when he swings. He’s like Madison Bumgarner, but with actual hitting ability and a beautiful swing.

We are one-sixth of the way through the season, and Pederson is batting .272/.423/.667, for an OPS of 1.090 and an OPS+ of 201. His OPS is 355 points higher than the next-best National League rookie (Jorge Soler of the Chicago Cubs at .735), and his 21 walks are third in the league. On top of that, he has played spectacular defense in center field, displaying range that the Dodgers haven’t seen out there since the daydream they had when they thought they were signing young Andruw Jones.

And the power. Oh, the power. Joc does not get cheated when he swings. He’s like Madison Bumgarner, but with actual hitting ability and a beautiful swing. Every time Pederson swings and misses, you have that feeling that he just barely missed hitting the ball 500 feet. And when he connects, as he did twice last night, it is a thing of beauty:

As Charley Steiner mentioned in those clips, seven of Pederson’s last eight hits have been home runs, including six in a row. He hasn’t hit a single since April 25, and in the ten games since, he has watched his batting average drop from .292 to .272 while his slugging percentage has climbed from .500 to .667. His line since his last single: .242/.359/.909.

I don’t know what the cutoff is for something to be a small sample size. Obviously, we shouldn’t expect Pederson’s hot streak to continue in perpetuity any more than his doubters should have expected his poor September showing to last forever. But it seems clear that Joc Pederson is, at worst, a solid Major League hitter and a potentially elite defensive center fielder. Even with the strikeouts, there are very few teams in baseball that wouldn’t love to have a player of Joc Pederson’s abilities patrolling center field for them.

As it sits right now, after one month of a six-month season, 23-year-old rookie Joc Pederson is tied for the National League lead in home runs, third in walks, and second in OPS (behind his teammate Adrian Gonzalez). He is exactly what anyone not focusing on the “eye test” expected him to be based on his past performance: a power hitter with a great eye who strikes out a lot, takes a lot of walks, hits a lot of dingers, and plays great defense. In fact, the only unexpected aspect of Pederson’s game so far is his running game — he is 1-for-4 in stolen bases, after stealing 113 bases in 441 minor league games. So we have that improvement to look forward to.

Is Joc Pederson going to break hitting coach Mark McGwire‘s 1987 record for most home runs as a rookie (49)? I don’t think so. Will his OPS be over 1.000 when the season ends? Probably not. But is Joc Pederson for real? Four years of evidence is telling us yes.

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