For the first three months of the season, Joc Pederson was leading the ROY race. Kris Bryant was impressive in his own right, but Pederson had twice as many home runs by the end of June (10 compared to 20), an ISO that was .092 points higher, and a better wOBA and wRC+. Pederson was unarguably fantastic, but seemingly at the flip of a switch, he became atrocious.
In the month of July, he posted a -0.5 fWAR, a meager wRC+ of 37, and he hit just one home run. Pederson suddenly became a different hitter with a completely altered approach (or lack thereof). I examined the issues that were plaguing Pederson then, and it was clear that his new swing tendencies combined with declining exit velocity led to a dramatic change in his production.
Since that article was written, Pederson returned to form in some regards (see the table below), but there are still aspects of his approach that he'll need to work on for the 2016 season.
After an atrocious July, Pederson's power began to return, but not nearly to the level that it was during the first three months of the season. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of his semi-bounceback was his increased walk rate. While Pederson still struggled with many other aspects of his offensive production, the 20 percent walk rate helped him raise his OBP to .341, whereas in July it was a putrid .229.
Pederson also began to return to his early season swing tendencies. The GIF consists of three different snapshots of his zone profile. The time periods shown are the same as the table above.
When Pederson's offense began to tank, so too did his plate discipline. As the first image in this sequence shows, Pederson rarely chased pitches outside of the strike zone; but in July, he was lost. There was no longer a defined region in which Pederson would attack, and instead he seemed to offer at anything that was thrown in his general direction. However from August through October, Pederson's discipline came back, which can be seen in much more detail via the table below.
|Row 1 compared to Row 2||19.3%||-5.1%||8.2%||15.7%||-9.7%||-3.1%||14.9%||17.9%||14.6%|
|Row 1 compared to Row 3||-1.1%||-2.7%||-1.8%||21.0%||2.1%||6.8%||0.7%||-1.7%||-16.0%|
While Pederson's O-Contact percentage rose over the course of the entire season, overall, the hitter he was in August through October was much closer to how he began the season compared to his performance in July. His batted ball distances for home runs, fly balls, and line drives even began to return to expected levels.
Unfortunately for Pederson, while his batted ball distances improved after the month of July (275.717 feet), he wasn't hitting pitches nearly as far as he was in the first three months of the season. From April-June, Pederson's average distance on HRs, fly balls, and line drives was 296.533 feet, whereas in the final two months of the year, they were traveling 281.458 feet.
The most likely culprit for the difference is the lack of hard-hit balls, which was ultimately one of the biggest factors that drove down his production in July.
Despite the increase in batted ball distance, Pederson's hard hit rate didn't come close to returning to the 44.7 percent mark that he posted in the first three months of the season. In fact, his soft hit percentage rose dramatically, even with the increased production in August through October.
Pederson's biggest problem was still that he did not hit pitches as hard as he did in the beginning of the season. While his plate discipline improved, Pederson wasn't able to fix the underlying issue that is driving his struggles once he made contact. Much of his success was because he was making hard contact at an elite rate, but once that began to decrease, so too did his offensive production. Once the 2016 season gets underway, if Pederson has regained his ability to make hard contact, his statistics should undoubtedly improve; but if he's still making soft contact around 20-30 percent, it's time to worry.
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Matt Goldman is a Featured Writer with Beyond the Box Score and a Contributing Editor at MLB Daily Dish. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheOriginalBull.