Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson are used to standing out. They stood out as amateurs. They stood out as minor leaguers. And, yes, they’ve stood out during their debut seasons at the game’s pinnacle level. It’s what they do – stand out.
Bryant, the famed #2 overall pick two years who bashed his way through every level of the minor leagues before getting called up in mid-April, is sporting a .257/.365/.455 triple-slash line through his first 86 games, slugging 16 doubles, four triples, and 13 home runs while swiping 10 bags. His overall production, per Weighted Runs Created Plus, has topped the league average mark by 27 percent.
And Pederson, a former 11th round prep pick in 2010, has been equally impressive: he’s slugged .228/.356/.461 with 16 doubles, one triple, a rookie-leading 20 home runs, and a pair of stolen bases. His overall production slightly bests that of Bryant’s, 131wRC+.
While it’s easy to get wrapped up in moonshoots – including those unleashed by Pederson in the Homerun Derby – and inflated walk rates, they’ve also been swing-and-missing at some pretty prestigious rates as well; Bryant’s whiffed in 29.9 percent of his plate appearances and Pederson’s missed in 29 percent of his as well.
Just as I did in this article for ESPN late last season, I wanted to put the duo's numbers in a historical context and see what the future may potentially hold.
My method: both players have had remarkably similar rookie seasons; they’re the same age, 23, have eerily similar strikeout rates (illustrated above), and, once again, relatively close walk rates as well (13.5 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively).
Using FanGraphs’ downloadable stats, I filtered out every 23-year-old rookie season since the start of the Live Ball Era (1920). Then, in an effort to view the players on a similar plane, I compared their strikeout and walk rates relative to their league average for that year. Finally, I used the following criteria: 300+ plate appearances, strikeout rate at least 40 percent higher than the league average, and a walk rate at least 55 percent better than league average. (Author’s note: Bryant’s averages were 44 percent and 82 percent; Pederson’s were 43 percent and 114 percent.)
And the results were…a bit surprising, actually.
Just three other big leaguers fell into that category: a borderline Hall of Famer (Fred McGriff), a 20-year veteran with a career 124 wRC+ (Brian Downing), and a semi-useful part-timer across five mostly nondescript seasons (Jon Nunnally). The great differentiator between the three, of course, is that the lefty-swinging Nunnally never solved southpaws; he batted a meager .216/.315/.392 against them in his career.
Taking a sideways step for a moment – or two – before I delved into the numbers I was admittedly a bit concerned with both rookies’ swing-and-miss tendencies. So much so, in fact, that I was skeptical of the heights both would – or could – eventually achieve. In other words, what type of career trajectories had players with high K-rates/BB-rates relative to the league average actually achieved in their respective careers? And as we’ve seen, two of the three – albeit an incredibly small sample size, turned in lengthy, productive careers.
One final note: Bryant has never shown any type of platoon splits; Pederson, on the other hand, has had his ups-and-downs against southpaws since entering pro ball. Whether the latter can consistently figure them out at the big league level is another topic. Overall the little study is nothing groundbreaking (obviously) but it’s something I hope you find interesting.
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For more analysis check out Joe Werner's site, ProspectDigest.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoltinJoey