Since making the Dodgers' opening day roster, Joc Pederson has been tearing the cover off the ball. Along with his power have come bushels of strikeouts, but what makes Pederson truly special has been his ability to draw walks. These are the three true outcomes, the events over which a hitter has the greatest control, and they happen to Joc Pederson more than anyone else in the game.
Sift through Pederson's minor league stats, and you'll see that this is the player he has been building toward since beginning pro ball. Drafted out of high school in 2010, Pederson typically spent a year at each stop and was consistently among the youngest players at each level. Pederson's power blossomed, particularly in AAA where he slugged 30 HR. We've been conditioned to dismiss PCL power numbers, but Pederson's power has not waned since reaching the show. His walk and strikeout rates are close to his 2014 minor league levels.
The key to a high Three True Outcomes rate (TTO%) is managing to draw walks while also striking out regularly. Pederson has passed the stabilization point for strikeout rate (60 PA) and walk rate (120 PA). This doesn't mean that these rate stats are cast in stone, rather that they are sufficiently reliable that we are free to drop the small sample size disclaimer. Pederson's 18 percent walk rate is 4th overall among all MLB hitters with at least 120 PA, while his 31 percent strikeout rate is 7th highest in the same group. To achieve such lofty strikeout and walk totals, you need to see a lot of pitches, and Pederson has. His 4.25 pitches per plate appearance ranks 10th in baseball. Pederson has also seen his fair share of full counts (49), although in this situation he has walked (16) more often than he's struck out (11).
What's so impressive about Pederson's season is that he's managed to sustain his AAA walk rate while hitting for more power. If you compare Pederson to league average numbers, he's seen 5 percent fewer strikes (zone%) than they typical player. So far, he's maintained league average plate discipline, swinging at 29 percent of pitches outside the zone. However, when Pederson does swing, he misses. A lot.
Let's break this down a little bit further. Brooks Baseball provides the option to group pitches that hitters have seen according to type. Four-seam fastballs, sinkers, and cutters are hard pitches; sliders, curves, slow curves, and knuckle balls are breaking pitches; and changeups, splitters, and screwballs are offspeed pitches. So far this year, Pederson has not seen a lot of heat. Of the 720 pitches he's faced, nearly 40 percent have been breaking or offspeed offerings. Look at the pitches he struck out on and you'll see the ratios of pitches he's faced don't change dramatically.
|Pitch Group||Frequency||Strike Three|
So where are pitchers putting these pitches? From left to right are the zone profiles of hard, breaking, and offspeed offerings. Pederson is getting hard pitches to the outside of the plate, while breaking and offspeed pitches are typically below the zone. Benders are usually thrown inside and slow ones are away.
Now that we know where pitchers are locating, let's dive into what Pederson is doing with the pitches. The zone profile order is the same, but this time his swings per pitch are shown on top and his whiffs are on the bottom. Compare the rows, and you'll see Pederson has expanded the zone for the high heat and chased inside breaking pitches.
While walks and strikeouts make up the lion's share of the three true outcomes, Pederson wouldn't be sitting atop the leaderboard without his home runs. Combine strikeout and walk rate and he trails Steven Souza and Chris Carter. It's his 7 percent HR rate that makes him the king of the hill. But what do we know about his power?
Aside from trading a few line drives for fly balls, Pederson's distribution of batted balls doesn't differ much from league average. What is different is the rate at which the fly balls he hits leave the yard, which is more than three times the league average. Although his HR/FB percentage checks in at 3rd in the league for hitters with at least 170 PA (the rough stabilization point for HR/FB and Joc's rough PA count), don't assume that it's only blind luck that's propelled Pederson to 12 HRs. His average fly ball distance of 315 feet is also near the top of leaderboard (11th) and his expected home run total is 9, which suggests his power numbers have been earned.
Pederson is atop the three true outcomes leaderboard for now, but can he stay there? No, probably not, but his season doesn't look like a total mirage either. His ZiPS and Steamer rest-of-season projections see him taking a couple of steps back in walk and home run rate, but it's not all bad news. If Pederson is on the field for the rest of season, a home run rate of 4% would leave him with around 30 bombs on the season. Only 2 rookies have hit 30 since 2008 (Mike Trout and Jose Abreu) and they're doing fine. Sure, they don't strike out as often as Pederson, but do you know who does? Giancarlo Stanton. This season he has nearly an identical strikeout rate to Pederson while hitting only one more home run and drawing fewer walks.
|Pederson to date||174||7%||18%||31%||55%|
But there's a caveat to this analysis, and it's kind of a big one. Pederson's biggest knock coming into the league was his ability to hit left-handed pitching. So far this year, he hasn't had much of a chance to show us one way or the other. Pederson has benefited from a schedule that has seen his team face only 6 left-handed starting pitchers. The Dodgers sat Pederson against 3 of them, so they managed to keep him in the starting lineup for 40 of their 43 games while facing almost only righties. So far, in just 29 plate appearances against southpaws, Pederson has struck out a whopping 38% of the time while failing to hit a home run. We don't know that he can't hit lefties, but in his limited opportunity so far this year, he hasn't.
Incredibly, one consistent for Pederson across the split is his three true outcomes percentage. That has to mean something for his chances to hold the crown. Long live the king!
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