By Jon Weisman
One of the quirks of the way the Dodgers have begun 2016 — hot enough for them to average 5.33 runs per game after their 15-0 win Opening Day — is how few walks they’ve drawn.
Los Angeles has nine walks in four games, and four regulars — Chase Utley, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Carl Crawford — have yet to earn their first free pass. (Turner and Crawford did not start Thursday.)
Adrian Gonzalez has been the exception, with four bases on balls. Yasiel Puig, interestingly enough, not only is the lone other Dodger who has walked twice, he has but two strikeouts.
The Dodgers’ success when swinging at the first pitch has been something: 13 for 24 with three doubles and a homer. Even when they swing and don’t put that first pitch into play, the Dodgers have reached base at a .323 clip in those plate appearances, including two sacrifice flies.
That first-pitch homer was hit by Joc Pederson, who has also has two doubles among the five times he has swung at the first pitch this season. As new as the season is, Pederson has given us plenty at the plate to explore.
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Pederson has operated mostly under the radar over the first four games, but there have been encouraging signs from him, certainly not the least of which being the two-run homer Thursday against the Giants that raised his 2016 OPS to .978. But perhaps even more compelling were his previous at-bats.
In the second inning, with Gonzalez on second base and one out, Pederson extended a pattern we saw during Spring Training of hitting to center and left field, hitting a grounder that shortstop Brandon Crawford barely knocked down on the infield to hold Pederson to an infield hit.
In the fourth, with Gonzalez at second and two out, Pederson clearly came up on a mission to make contact and get the runner home. When the count got to 1-2, Pederson fouled off six straight pitches (of three different kinds — click on the rundown at right), before striking out on a foul tip.
The 23-year-old was then robbed by Crawford of an RBI single up the middle in the sixth inning, before he hit that homer to center in the eighth. Even though that came on the first pitch, Pederson still leads the Dodgers by seeing 4.12 pitches per plate appearance so far.
This isn’t to suggest that Pederson’s development is complete — among other things, he does have seven strikeouts in 17 plate appearances, compared with one walk — but it undermines the notion of him as a hitter who steps up to the plate looking only to swing as hard as he can, regardless of the situation.
The same could be said for Puig in 2016, although man, is Puig hitting the ball hard. As Jay Jaffe notes at SI.com, Puig has an average exit velocity this season of 104 mph, third in MLB behind Carloses Gonzalez and Correa. (Pederson is ninth in the Majors at 101 mph.)