Joc Pederson’s benching is complicated

Joc Pederson has started 110 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in this, his rookie season. The Dodgers are 62-48 in those games. By most estimations, Pederson has been pretty good this year. He was an All-Star and has 23 home runs, mostly out of the leadoff spot for Don Mattingly. Just how many more of the team’s final 38 games Pederson starts, however, remains to be seen. Pederson has not started since August 21, the day the Dodgers were no-hit by Mike Fiers of the Houston Astros, and on the surface appears to be mired in a massive slump. For now, Mattingly appears willing to nail Pederson to the bench and insert Kiké Hernandez in centerfield with Chase Utley playing second base.

The extent of Pederson’s slump is difficult to define. On one hand, he has batted just .163/.333/.293 in the second half with only three home runs and three doubles. The power he showed in the first half that made him so dangerous out of the leadoff hole is gone, but one thing remains — his ability to get on base.

In only 63 August plate appearances, the rookie has drawn 20 walks. Despite his lowly .122 batting average in the month, Pederson still has a .413 OBP. He’s also cut down on his strikeouts noticeably, though he is still striking out more than once per game. Prior to being benched, Pederson was riding a 2-for-25 slide, but had still managed to score five runs in 11 games.

Hernandez has been hot for the Dodgers, batting .338 in the second half with better on-base and slugging numbers than Pederson. The Dodgers acquired Utley to play second base in Howie Kendrick’s absence, but even with his struggles, Pederson will still get on base with greater regularity than Utley. Hernandez should be in the lineup, but until Kendrick returns, the best option seems to be playing Hernandez at second base and allowing Pederson to continue drawing walks while trying to regain his swing.

If getting on base is the primary job of the leadoff hitter, then Joc Pederson has been doing his job with great success. It’s very difficult to determine if Pederson has actually been awful or still above average in the second half. Viewed through the more traditional metrics like batting average, he’s been a massive disappointment, but on the other hand, there are only five players in the entire league who have reached base at a better than .400 clip, and Pederson has done that in August. The first half of the season raised expectations that Pederson would be a home run blasting leadoff man, but he’s begun to wear down in his first season in the bigs, and pitchers have begun zeroing in on the holes in his swing. Through it all though, he has never lost the ability to take a free base.

There are still plenty of rough edges to be ironed out, especially his strikeout rate. A second half slump was to be expected, but even with the struggles, Pederson has continued to be very valuable to the Dodgers. An old-school view will tell you he’s been terrible, but based purely on the rate at which he has reached base, Pederson should not be benched. For the Dodgers and Mattingly, benching Pederson seems like a desperate move as the San Francisco Giants inch closer in the standings, and it is one that could cost them. The Dodgers need their best nine on the field to hang onto their grasp of the division, and that still includes Pederson even without the tape measure home runs.

Joc Pederson has hit the rookie wall, but he needs to be allowed to hit his way out of the slump. Take that chance away from him, and the Dodgers risk losing his bat come October should they be lucky enough to make it there.

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