Joc Pederson ended his DL stint on Friday. The 25-year-old outfielder has struggled in limited time this season. After making a shift in his swing once again late last year, Pederson tinkered with his swing again when he returned versus the Padres. It seems that Pederson isn’t really ever content with his swing.
Now that he’s played two years in the majors, we kind of have an idea of who Pederson is. While he displayed plus power and plus speed in the minors, only one of those tools has materialized in the big leagues. In spite of that, Pederson has become a very productive player, earning 6.5 fWAR and 4.6 bWARP in his career to this point. His power profile is aided by a strong walk rate and his ability to man a quality center field. However, he has the stigma of being a strikeout prone hitter who struggles against left-handed pitching.
Pederson has always tinkered with his swing. Back in 2015, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci detailed five different changes in Pederson’s swing over the course of that year:
Justifiably so, as Pederson basically forgot how to hit from July onward that year. Still, it’s safe to say that Pederson is continually trying to adjust.
Pederson came back from a short injury in 2016 in mid-July. After coming back, his swing looked pretty much the same as it had before he got hurt. The leg kick, which can vary in height, is still there, and the load he settled on is, too.
However, as the month turned over, Pederson had a new tick in his swing. He started picking up his back foot preceding his load.
This is something that makes sense. Under any solid hitting instructor, a drill will come up where you step back with that foot prior to swinging. The drill helps show the hitter the kinetic energy that gets stored in the hip during the load. As Navy Assistant Coach Chris Constantine said, why not try it live?
Pederson saw results with the modification. Essentially, everything but strikeout rate moved in a positive direction for him after the change. On a piece by piece level, most of these changes were marginal, but the sum of each of them pushed Pederson up 23 points in wRC+ and 35 points in wOBA.
Joc Pederson Swing Change Splits
Taking it to a batted ball level, Pederson generated a full mile per hour more of exit velocity after the change, going from 90.6 mph on average to 91.6 mph. However, he lost a bit off his average launch angle, falling from 15 degrees to 11 degrees.
Pederson continued to activate his back foot at the beginning of this year. However, his step was much more pronounced. Last season, it was a very quick tap to initiate the weight transfer. Prior to his injury, it was more of him actually picking his foot up and putting it down. On top of that, he started with his front foot lifted off the ground and his hands in a higher position.
In his first game back from injury, he dropped the back foot step altogether. His hands are much higher than they were in 2016, and he has a bit more flexion in his legs. When it comes to the load, the back toe tap is gone, but the pronounced leg kick is still there.
It’s hard to glean a whole lot from the 59 plate appearances he had early this season. Over that span, he had an 84 wRC+ and a .297 wOBA, so it’s very clear that he was struggling. However, it’s hard to say that it would have continued with such a small sample, even with a .313 BABIP.
What’s worth contemplating is why Pederson moved away from something that did actually work for him so quickly. The more pronounced step may have created a timing issue for him. But why not just return to the old, tap method?
Pederson’s swing is certainly something worth watching over the season. After he abandoned the back step so quickly, he could come back to it if he continues to struggle. All in all, it shouldn’t shock anyone that Pederson is tinkering with his swing. What’s motivating it, however, can surprise us.
Anthony Rescan is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.