Monday, May 11, 2015

Joc Pederson's Hot Start, Potential Future

Thanks to ESPN Stats and Info for this nifty infographic. That said, ESPN Fantasy guy Eric Karabell calls Pederson's hot start unsustainable (link insider only):

The outstanding-but-silly numbers that Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson is producing don’t look like anything a rookie has ever done before because, well, they aren’t. Pederson enters Thursday with his past seven hits all going for home runs, including a pair of home runs in Milwaukee on Wednesday, and that’s perhaps what fantasy owners are noticing most. I’m also checking out the walk and strikeout rates, because as it stands today, nobody is drawing free passes at a 20 percent rate while also swinging and missing for outs more than 30 percent of the time. It’s like watching former slugger Adam Dunn but with a ton of speed and Gold Glove-prowess in center field, except even Dunn didn’t walk this much.

Pederson is obviously owned in all fantasy leagues, but the question is about value and whether this is a wise time to see if someone else will overpay for him, or whether we’ve got a superstar in the making. I actually predicted that Pederson, and not the awesome Chicago Cubs third base prospect Kris Bryant, would take home top NL rookie honors this season, but even then my expectations were for a 20-homer, 20-steal season and high Wins Above Replacement (WAR) due to his defense. Pederson is certainly on his way to topping the first and third figure, and if he keeps walking and becomes more successful when he attempts to run, the second is in jeopardy as well. But I’m watching his contact rates. We call what Pederson is doing a Three True Outcomes approach, which can be dangerous as well as successful.

First of all, thanks to Inside Edge and ESPN Stats & Info, we’re informed that nobody is doing more damage when making contact than Pederson, with more than 45 percent of the balls he’s hit having been hit hard. This is unsustainable, by quite a bit. Pederson is special, but come on. If you hit a ball hard a third of the time, you deserve major props (Freddie Freeman is second at 37.8 percent). However, the rates in which Pederson doesn’t put the ball in play are astounding, and the strikeouts are more likely to continue than the walks. People strike out. Lots of them. Most don’t hit for average. Nine players have a 30 percent strikeout rate, and while most hit for power and some draw walks, Pederson is the only one with an on-base percentage higher than .345. No one is hitting better than .273. I don’t think Pederson will be able to hit even his current and hardly flashy .272 for long. His isolated power is a ridiculous .395; last year’s leader among qualified players was Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion with a .279 ISO. Nobody expects Pederson, with seven home runs in nine games and nine overall in 27 contests, to keep this rate up. But what numbers should we expect as a baseline?

As the team’s leadoff hitter for a week, Pederson is batting .222 with six home runs in seven games. He hasn’t abandoned his patient approach, but it’s worth pointing out his overall elevated walk rate as the team’s misplaced No. 8 hitter, where he had more walks than K's. That isn’t unusual batting in front of the pitcher. Batting in front of a struggling Jimmy Rollins is different. Let’s see if Pederson can draw walks at a 15 percent clip, which is still really high, especially for someone so young. Let’s also see if he can hang in there and avoid being overwhelmed against left-handed pitching. So far we don’t really know, and manager Don Mattingly could, when his outfield is healthy, rest Pederson against the Madison Bumgarner types. We’ve seen what he’s doing against right-handers, and they too will adjust. Pederson’s homers, all off right-handers, have traveled more than 420 feet. Among 51 hitters with five or more home runs, only the blasts from Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun have traveled a longer average distance. That’s good news. The power is real. But it’s also not sustainable.

I don’t view Pederson as a guy likely to provide more than 30 home runs, even as it stands today when he’s nearly a third of the way there, or someone likely to bat anywhere near .300. The fact that he and New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, himself slow and aged, are the only players with at least three homers to have more home runs than singles, is kind of silly. For one of them it makes sense. Pederson will hit singles. When this power rampage settles down, and it always does, I see a .250 hitter that with his advanced approach will get on base at a high level, start stealing more bases at a successful clip -- he’s only 1-for-4 so far, which is also odd -- while still providing power. Where does he end up? My able colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft placed Pederson at No. 120 in his recent Wednesday rankings. I already had Pederson in my top 100 back in March, and now he’s in my top 50. I think some of this statistical goodness continues. I’d deal Pederson if the price is high, looking for a top-20 hitter, top-15 pitcher or something good in combination at this point. Aim high, right, even if it’s not plausible. If your true need is power and batting average, sell soon. Sell high on anyone doing this. Sell high on Nelson Cruz and Adrian Gonzalez, too. I think Pederson ends up around 25 home runs, 20 stolen bases and a .255 batting average, with at least 85 runs, assuming he continues to lead off. That’s really good and similar to what I believed in March. But that’s definitely a top-50 player. Invest, but with awareness of how his numbers should alter.

Let's see if Pederson can prove you wrong, Eric!


QuadSevens said...

This article tells me that Eric Karabell loves him some Eric Karabell.

Steve Sax said...

Number of times Karabell uses "I": 8
Number of times Karabell uses "my": 4