Joc Pederson Is Growing Into His Contact

At the very end of the most recent episode of FanGraphs Audio, host Carson Cistulli and guest Dave Cameron were bantering about players whose primary offensive skill was once thought to be limited to controlling the strike zone and making contact, but who have since added plus power while maintaining most of that strike zone control — guys in the mold of Jose Altuve, Matt Carpenter, Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts.

During this conversation, Cistulli submitted an anecdote that made my ears perk up:

Carson Cistulli: This is uber-anecdotal, but I do feel as though we see more players going from this high-contact, control sort of skill set and developing power from that direction than, say, the Joey Gallo skillset, where the power is obvious but the ability to make contact — I feel like those players do not grow into contact.

Dave Cameron: I think that’s absolutely true. Contact rate is something that is very difficult to change. Your swing is kind of your swing, to some regard. You can change it, but it does not appear that players have as much ability to shift from a Giancarlo Stanton-level contact ability to a Mookie Betts kind of contact level. We just don’t see those dramatic changes.

CC: And it’s your brain, too, right? Isn’t your brain involved in that?

DC: Yeah, it’s like how fast your mind fires when it sees a pitch and how well it picks up the spin of the ball and the location of the ball, and it tells your hand-eye coordination and how quickly you can get the bat through the zone. There’s a lot of neuroscience that goes into that ability.

It’s an interesting conversation for a number of reasons — namely the distinction between innate vs. physical abilities — but the reason it made my ears perk up is because I’d just been thinking about Joc Pederson, who’s currently doing the exact sort of thing Cameron and Cistulli submitted was more difficult to do.

Pederson was a polarizing figure as a rookie in 2015 thanks to his red-hot start, his dreadful second half, and perhaps more than anything else his three-true outcomes approach at the plate which, after the All-Star Break, resulted in countless whiffs and very few homers. It’s the exact sort of skillset that fanbases tend not to appreciate, because nothing looks uglier than a swing and a miss.

What isn’t ugly is this:

Largest improvements in contact rate

  1. Joc Pederson, +9.0%
  2. DJ LeMahieu, +6.2%
  3. Brett Gardner, +6.2%
  4. Didi Gregorius, +6.0%
  5. Kris Bryant, +5.8%

That’s every qualified hitter from 2015 to 2016, and Pederson’s lead is enormous. Last year, Pederson had the second-worst contact rate in the league, within spitting distance of Ryan Howard. This year, he’s climbed nearly all the way to league-average, making company with guys like Carlos Correa and Starling Marte.

And Pederson hasn’t traded any of his power for this newfound contact. Rather, he’s added power.

This plot nicely ties together the strides Pederson’s made at the plate:

Pederson

That’s Pederson way up top in the yellow, the most encouraging dot in the entire image, unless you’re partial to DJ LeMahieu’s place to his right.

You’ve got to love what Pederson’s doing. The interesting thing is that his season wRC+ (117) is essentially unchanged from last year’s (115), due mostly to the fact that his walk rate has taken a bit of a hit. Goes to show that walks are valuable, too, and so was last year’s version of Pederson. This year’s version is just what people wanted to see.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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Bernandezmember
6 years ago

Exhibit B: George Springer, who improved his contact rate by 8.5% from 2014 to 2015.

I said before the season I hoped Joc would pull a Springer, and he has! Would be nice to see the walks return though.