In 2019, Joc Pederson found himself as the Dodgers leadoff hitter nearly two-thirds of the time. Yes, he had the pop and in turn, a respectable OPS, but he lacked other key qualities for that batting slot. Wondering if he was the right man for the job was one of burning the questions fans had all year.
Traditionally, the leadoff spot in the batting order is reserved for certain key qualities.
Two of those qualities are on-base percentage and stolen bases. The thought there is having the right batter leading off, improves the odds of getting a baserunner quickly and having them advance into scoring position quickly. Another key quality is having a batter that sees a lot of pitches. Not only does this quality get the pitch count trending in the right direction, but it allows the rest of the team to see what the pitcher is working with.
Joc Pederson had 441 plate appearances out of the number one spot over the course of 107 games, of those games he started 103 of them with moderate success. Joc drove in 64 of his career-high 74 RBIs from the leadoff spot. Moreover, he also hit 33 of his career-high 36 home runs in the leadoff spot — 9 of which came as the first batter of the game.
Joc Pederson set a new franchise record with 9 leadoff home runs this season. He broke the record set by *checks notes* Joc Pederson all the way back in *checks notes again* 2018.
He now has 20 in his career, chasing Davey Lopes' Dodgers record of 28. pic.twitter.com/6WnJDle54u
— Clint Pasillas (@realFRG) September 26, 2019
That power led him to a solid .894 leadoff OPS, 14th best amongst the other 78 leadoff batters that amassed 70+ plate appearances. Additionally, out of those other leadoff batters, Joc walked 43 times (good for 9th most) and took one for the team 12 times (good for 12th most).
Joc’s on-base-plus-slugging out of the leadoff spot top 15, but it was greatly cushioned by his power numbers from that spot. His leadoff OBP was .342 — a “meh”ddle of the pack 38th best — while his slugging sat at .552.
On the season, Joc hit for a career high .250 batting average, however, that same BA landed him 52nd amongst the other leadoff hitters. To dampen his leadoff effectiveness even more he struck out 93 times, 11th most amongst his leadoff cohorts.
I feel like every Joc Pederson at-bat I've ever seen had been either a 400+ foot moonshot or a strikeout
— Daniel Jones Enjoyer (@Chris_Olenick) October 8, 2019
It can be argued that baseball has shifted more toward sabermetric based game strategies, I’m still not sure Joc Pederson fits the mold of even that type of leadoff hitter. He has the OPS, but his batting average lacks as does his traditional OBP. He strikes out a lot (especially for a leadoff batter) and even though stealing is not a priority for the Dodgers, you still want somebody that will take a good lead to put pressure on and distract the pitcher. Joc is hardly a threat to steal and therefore doesn’t even draw a real pick off attempt.
Who Leads Off in 2020?
All this is a long lead in to the fact that the Dodgers are in need of a true leadoff batter for the 2020 season. This topic was discussed on a recent episode of Dodgers Nation’s Blue Heaven Podcast, and it came with a lot of feedback from the audience.
We haven't had a true leadoff hitter since . . . . fill in the blank . . . . https://t.co/C0mvgwMWdA
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) November 13, 2019
First, let’s look at internal options.
Dugie For Leadoff?
Last May, I wrote about Alex Verdugo being a good candidate as an everyday leadoff hitter. Even though nagging injuries ended his season early and resulted in a smaller sample size of stats, Verdugo is still my favorite on the current roster for being more of a true leadoff hitter.
He has a contagious energy that could set the tone for a game. I won’t go on another stat rant with Dugie, but I will say he’s patient, hits well, and has one of the lower strikeout percentages on the team. Moreover, his moderate power and ability to hit left and right handed pitching plays up for consistency at the top of the lineup. Finally, that aforementioned energy and the enthusiasm he has for the game coupled with his natural speed at least make him a threat to steal. Still, I’d love to see him improve that element of his game enough to enhance the threat.
There is NO reason Joc Pederson should be leadoff. I do not understand it. I never will. He is not a leadoff hitter… when Verdugo is back healthy he needs to be leadoff for good
— Encino Man Says Dodgers Are a Poverty Franchise (@Thencinoman) August 14, 2019
Other internal options include Gavin Lux (speed) and Max Muncy (on-base skills), but Verdugo’s bat-to-ball skills make him stand out above the rest.
Rumors have the Dodgers in talks with the Cleveland Indians on All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor. The 26 year-old has 89 home runs and an .870 OPS out of the leadoff spot in his career. While he’s not a huge stolen base threat (93 total in his career), he is an exceptional baserunner by all accounts.
Joc Pederson may have taken the leadoff job in stride, but the fact is the Dodgers need a true leadoff hitter. Joc wasn’t terrible at it, hell the Dodgers won 106 games utilizing him the way they did.
But he could be utilized even better.
Cody Bellinger hit 47 home runs and drove in 115 runs. Max Muncy hit 35 home runs to accrue 98 RBIs. Joc hit 36 home runs and didn’t even reach 80 RBIs. In fact, of the 35 players in 2019 to hit 34 or more home runs, Joc had the lowest RBI total. With Joc’s power, he’d be better utilized somewhere a little lower in the order where his home runs could account for more runs rather than seemingly hoping for a solo shot to open the game.
Joc Pederson currently has the most home runs ever in a season with fewer than 75 RBIs (36 homers, 74 RBIs). Only Mike Trout last year has had more homers and fewer than 80 RBIs (39/79).
— Jeff J. Snider (@snidog) September 29, 2019
Entering his final year of arbitration, Joc will certainly be hoping to put up some big numbers ahead of his 2020 free agency. The Dodgers should seek to capitalize on Joc’s hopes and ride the returns. Help him, help you. Drop him a little lower, collect more runs, and give Dugie his shot to impact every game from the start.