Dodgers’ Pederson Could Learn From Beneficiary of A Big Payday

Much has been made of the swing changes that Jason Heyward, now of the Chicago Cubs, has made throughout his career. He has had an open stance, closed stance, lowered arms, higher set arms, etc. A full analysis of Jason Heyward’s swing can be found here, here, and here.

Similarly, the Dodgers Joc Pederson has made swing changes and adjustments. You can learn more about that here, here, and here. Pederson was once a called a “5’o clock hitter” by his father, former Dodger Stu Pederson, because Pederson could only hit during batting practice.  Pederson eventually passed up the University of Southern California to enter the draft and was drafted by the Dodgers. He never looked back and has been a stud ever since.

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All ballplayers, at least the ones that want to stay longer than a cup of coffee in the Major Leagues (e.g., Stu Pederson), make changes and adjustments, whether that is during one at bat, one game, one series, one half of a season, one season, or multiple seasons, and of course over a career. What is interesting here is that the swing changes by Jason Heyward and Joc Pederson in their careers have provided such drastic changes to their corresponding statistical performances.

Heyward was drafted as a power hitting right fielder who could play stellar defense. However, swing changes in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 have been reflected in his offensive statistical performance. In 2014 and 2015, he had the two most similar statistical seasons of his career. His defense has stayed great throughout his career and is really where a lot of his value originates from for front offices and analysts. It is also one of the main reasons the Cubs signed Heyward to a $186 million dollar deal.

Surely, his offensive performance, although good, but not great, is not why he was paid such a figure. He will play center field for the Cubs even though he won a Gold Glove Award in 2014 and 2015 playing right field for the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively.

However, from 2010-2012, Heyward went from 18, to 14, then 27 home runs, then back to 14, 11, and 13 for 2013-2015, which the latter half is likely more in line with his career trajectory. His runs batted in went from 72, 42, 82 for 2010-2012, and then 38, 58, and 60 for 2013-2015, again with the latter half of this equation more in line with his career trajectory. We are not swing experts, but Heyward played in only 104 games in 2013 during an injury-shortened season so we can argue that his swing adjustments from 2010-2011, and 2013-2014 were the most drastic when looking at his statistical output.

Heyward’s Minor League seasons also reflect statistical numbers more in line with his performance by home runs, runs batted in, on base percentage, and batting average as that of his 2014 and 2015 seasons.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

In comparing Joc Pederson, we look to the combination of his playing time in the Minors and Majors because his service time is roughly five seasons less than that of Jason Heyward. Meaning, Heyward has been in the League for five more years than Pederson. That being said, Pederson has stayed consistent throughout his minor league years and into his first year in the Major Leagues. Like Heyward, Pederson was drafted as a power hitting and strong defensive outfielder, but in center field. His power numbers, runs batted in, and on-base percentage have stayed roughly the same from the minor leagues to the majors.

From 2011-2014, Pederson hit 11, 18, 22, and 33 homeruns, respectively, while driving in 65, 70, 58, and 78 runs. He also stole 26, 26, 31, and 30 bases during those same seasons. His 2015 Major League campaign produced the following slash line: 26 homeruns, 54 runs batted in, 92 walks, 170 strikeouts, and a .346 on base percentage, which earned Pederson an All-Star and Homerun Derby selections.

The key difference was Pederson’s batting average. It dropped significantly to .210 for his first full season in the Majors from .302 career batting average in the Minors. His on base, slugging, and on base plus slugging percentages all dropped drastically, where his on base percentage dropped by over 50 percentage points once he played a full season in the Majors. His Minor League career on base percentage was an excellent .405. Pederson’s slump occurred midway through the 2015 season, his first full season in the Major Leagues.

What happened? Was it the long length of his first Major League season? What it mid-season adjustments? Were the Pacific Coast League ballparks too hitter friendly? Were pitchers finding holes in Pederson’s swing? Was it because former Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly lacked confidence in him? Some have argued that Pederson’s struggles were related to the Homerun Derby in Cincinnati where he made it to the finals that concluded with an epic, but losing battle, with hometown favorite Todd Frazier.

Jon SooHoo-Los Angeles Dodgers
Jon SooHoo-Los Angeles Dodgers

His defense did not struggle though and the Dodgers finally found their center fielder for the future. Pederson’s defensive play is also why he stayed in the lineup as much as he did during his midseason slump.

However, towards the end of August and into September, Pederson made swing adjustments and he rebounded. He increased his leg lift and step (likely because of Justin Turner and his hitting coach). Pederson quickly found his batting average and walks increase, while his strikeouts stayed somewhat the same. He never really did find his homerun stroke though.

What is most encouraging is that Pederson walked nearly one hundred times in his first full season in 2015. If Pederson can walk one hundred times, hit twenty plus homeruns, with 50 plus runs batted in, get on base at a .350 mark and above, while playing stellar defense, the Dodgers will be happy. So will the fans.

Moreover, Pederson is a free agent in 2021 and will be salary arbitration eligible for the first time in 2018. This plays well for the front office thinking of controllable, good, talent.

Pederson has the opportunity to be great with shortstop Corey Seager. Having those two in the middle of the lineup for years to come will be the Dodgers future and the fans hope.

One thing is for certain, Chicago Cubs fans can now join the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals in the debate of how good is Jason Heyward?  Pederson does not provide that much of a drastic debate. Pederson was called up to the Majors and did what was asked of him: hit homeruns and play great defense. It will be up to Pederson whether he makes the consistent adjustments to increase his batting average, steal more bases (although the Dodgers stole more bases after Lorenzo Bundy was demoted to the Minors), and cut down on the strikeouts, while simultaneously increasing his on base, slugging, and on base plus slugging percentages. The Dodgers are certainly counting on him to do just that, while maintaining and increasing his performance on the field.

*All baseball statistics for Joc Pederson and Jason Heyward via Baseball-Reference.com.

Jeremy Evans

Jeremy M. Evans is the Founder & Managing Attorney at California Sports Lawyer®, representing entertainment, media, and sports clientele. Evans is an award-winning attorney and industry leader based in Los Angeles.
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