Lots of great hitters had poor seasons this year, and a handful of them had the misfortune to hit poorly for two months on their way to free agency. Joc Pederson is one of those players.
Prior to 2020, Pederson posted wRC+ lower than 116 only once in five full seasons. Aside from his average 2017, Pederson has been consistently 20-30 percent better than league average at the plate. Though he’s never been an everyday starter, Pederson has been good for about three wins a season by fWAR. He may have only hit for a .297 wOBA in 2020, but that shouldn’t be cause for concern.
Pederson ranked in the 96th percentile for exit velocity, 79th percentile for hard hit rate, and 61st percentile for xwOBA which are all typical placements for him. Like his teammate Justin Turner, Pederson hit into some rough luck that likely would have gone unnoticed in a full season.
Like so many others, Pederson’s market will be improved if there’s a universal DH in 2021. One would think that MLB would have made this announcement before the non-tender deadline that passed on Wednesday or even before the deadline to accept or extend a qualifying, but this is the league that waited until after the season started to make it known that the playoffs would be expanded. If we’re lucky, MLB is waiting to reveal it during the Rule 5 Draft so people other than beat writers and prospect hounds tune into the audio stream.
If an NL team wants Pederson, there’s a good chance they’ll have to play him in the field, but he’s far from being a complete clankmitt. With the option of keeping him as a DH, the Dodgers still started him in the outfield 26 times in 2020. Granted, his defense was mostly this year by advanced metrics, but defensive metrics can be wonky in full seasons. When evaluating whether Pederson should be signed as an outfield or DH, it’s better to look at his entire body of work which has been mostly… fine?
In retrospect, Pederson shouldn’t have spent so much time manning center field, but he’s a perfectly cromulent corner outfielder so long as you ask Defensive Runs Saved. According to DRS, Pederson has been a tick above average in left. Between 2018 and 2019, Pederson saved nine runs in 123 starts.
Outs Above Average is a little less impressed, however. In those two years, Pederson put up -4 OAA in left. By StatCast’s metric, Pederson has been a slightly below average outfielder throughout his career, but slightly below average is still playable so long as he continues to hit. If there’s a DH in 2021, great, Pederson can fill that role with aplomb. If there isn’t a DH next, great, Pederson’s value isn’t hurt that much if at all.
Putting Pederson in the field shouldn’t scare teams away, but Pederson almost certainly needs a right-handed platoon partner. Against lefties, Pederson has hit for just a .255 wOBA and a 59 wRC+ throughout his career. The Dodgers were successful at hiding Pederson from lefties; only 16 percent of his plate appearances have come at a platoon disadvantage.
Pederson’s inability to hit lefties narrows his market a bit, but there are still a few teams where he’s a great fit. The Cubs, for instance, could use a left-handed hitting slugger who isn’t great in the field, but they could have had one for $9 million or so and chose to do without. If he were on the Cardinals, Harrison Bader could sit against righties while Dylan Carlson slides to center (assuming Carlson puts things together next season). A space on the Giants is less obvious now that they have re-signed Alex Dickerson, but Dickerson has had trouble staying healthy and Pederson would make a great platoon partner for Darin Ruf or Austin Slater.
Of course, the Dodgers could also keep him around. They already know how they can win with him, and perhaps they would like to deny other teams of knowing how they could too.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.