By Jon Weisman
Is he for real? Should you have zeal?
Joc Pederson now has a .462 on-base percentage and .962 OPS after reaching base four times (single, hit-by-pitch and two walks) in Saturday’s 11-7 Dodger victory over San Diego.
The 23-year-old rookie is tied for fourth in the Majors in OBP. He is 28th in Wins Above Replacement among all big-leaguers in 2015 and fifth among centerfielders — second in the National League. If there were an All-Star Game being played today, Pederson would belong in it.
Pederson’s high OBP is driven by his 15 walks, which are second in MLB (behind 22-year-old Bryce Harper) and one more than the number of hits he has. Pederson’s selectivity at the plate is no surprise and positions him to be elevated higher in the order at some point.
One caveat is that all but one of Pederson’s walks have come with him batting in the No. 8 spot in the order, so I put together this chart to show how often Pederson has benefited from the pitcher batting behind him (click the image to enlarge).
- Seven of the 15 walks have come with the pitcher on deck. Three were intentional, but with the other four (April 8, April 15, April 18 and April 24), it made sense for the opposition to challenge Pederson, so those are pretty legitimate. For example, on April 8, Pederson walked to load the bases with Brandon McCarthy due up next, but with only one out, so it’s not as if the free pass offered a free path out of the inning.
- Each of the three pinch-hitting situations after Pederson was obvious — it’s not that opponents thought the pitcher was coming up and got fooled.
- Two other walks came with runners on second and third and two out, so opponents could be careful with Pederson, but it’s not like the on-deck hitters (Justin Turner and Scott Van Slyke) weren’t a threat.
If you turned the three intentional walks into outs, Pederson would still have a .415 on-base percentage, which would keep him in the top 20 in the Majors. Even if you took away all seven of his walks with the pitcher on deck and made them outs, Pederson’s OBP would be a healthy .354.
Pederson has also benefited from some luck: His batting average on balls in play so far this season is .444. If you knocked that BABIP down to the current Major League average of .289, Pederson would lose four hits, and if you didn’t restore those seven walks, he’d be left with a .208 batting average and .292 on-base percentage.
Finally, Pederson’s 20 strikeouts, which are tied for 13th in the big leagues, also provide a reality check, and his early basestealing efforts (1 for 4) have been wanting.
So yeah, if you made the harshest possible interpretation of his early season performance — and ignore his defensive strengths — you’d turn Pederson into a pretty pedestrian player. Still, that barely diminishes what Pederson has accomplished in his first three weeks as a Major League regular. To have a first-rate defender in center and a threat from the bottom of the lineup is really meaningful for the Dodgers, and think how much better he is going to become with more experience.