Joc Pederson does not fit the traditional “three true outcomes” profile visually. Listed at 6-foot-one and 185 pounds, Pederson plays center field and is a far cry from the lumbering slugger personified most in Adam Dunn over the past decade. However, Pederson has been a high walk, high strikeout player with decent power throughout his minor league career with some very good comps and that has carried over so far in Major League Baseball in the early part of the season.
Over the past three seasons, Pederson has moved quickly and steadily to the three true outcomes looking at the level where he received the most plate appearances in each season.
His walk, strikeout, and home run rates have all risen as he has moved up the Dodgers organization. Those increases have helped make him one of the top prospects in all of baseball, and increased the organizations desire to move away from players like Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier to create playing time for Pederson. Pederson has lived up to his prospect status in the early part of the season, hitting .296/.458/.556 with a wRC+ of 179 on the strength of a .419 BABIP and 22% walk rate. That line has been accompanied by a 29% strikeout rate, and the only other player to exceed 20% in both walk and strikeout rates is Bryce Harper. In the early going the Three True Outcome Leaderboard looks like this:
This early in the season, fluctuation can happen quickly and some of the players on the board almost solely through strikeout rate like Mike Zunino, Colby Rasmus, and Jorge Soler surely will not last. However, many of the players on the list are likely to remain there for some time. Chris Carter is fairly low on the board early on, but he is probably the closest player to Adam Dunn in the game today. Bryce Harper is likely to fall some, but if he matches his strikeout rate from last season (26%), he will have a shot. Harper, like Pederson and Springer, is an athletic outfielder who saw an average number of pitches per plate appearances last season with roughly 3.9, but this season is seeing more than half a pitch more in April.
Looking at ZiPS projections can provide a decent idea of the expected three true outcome leaders. Looking at expected contributors, here are the projected leaders coming into the season.
Whether Springer and Pederson, and perhaps Harper are simply anomalies in these stats usually reserved for hulking sluggers, or they represent a shift in the type of players who are three true outcomes hitters growing up in the Moneyball era, or if they represent a shift in the league in general as strikeouts become more commonplace is debatable. All three players are young with Springer the oldest at 25, and all three players could get bigger, although Harper is already quite big. Springer and Harper have already been moved to a corner outfield spot and in his evaluation of the Dodgers outfielder, Kiley McDaniel mentioned the same.
Pederson has average to above average tools across the board, with only his raw power showing plus, though that’s with effort in batting practice, so it isn’t really usable game power. He can play a decent center field for now and the Dodgers will do everything they can to let him play there, but most scouts assume Pederson will settle as a right fielder by his mid-to-late-20’s, similar to Seager at shortstop/third base. Pederson’s offensive projection will come down to what kind of hitter he wants to be–the 55 future hit/power tools grades is a bit of a hedge, but he should post high OBPs either way.
Pederson’s line will clearly move down as the year goes on. While walking over 20% of the time is interesting in the early going, it is not likely something that can continue. The same holds true for his .419 BABIP. Pederson’s walk rate is perhaps the most interesting aspect of Pederson’s stat line thus far. Pederson is a cog in a deep Dodgers lineup and often finds himself hitting eighth in the lineup. The eighth place hitter gets a walk rate boost in the National League by virtue of hitting in front of the pitcher.
In 2014, the eighth place hitter in the NL had a walk rate of 7.9% compared to the overall NL average of 7.6%. That might seem like a small advantage, but that does not factor in the talent of the hitter. The eighth place hitter in the NL last season had a wRC+ of 73, pitiful compared overall NL non-pitcher average of 100. Given the vast disparity in hitter ability, we would expect walks at a low rate from the eighth best hitter, but hitting before the pitcher has its advantages.
Of Pederson’s 73 plate appearances, 57 have come from the eighth spot in the lineup. In those 57 plate appearances, Pederson has 15 walks, 14 strikeouts, and two home runs, a three true outcomes percentage of 56. In 16 plate appearances outside of the eighth spot, Pederson has just one walk against seven strikeouts, although the difference between hitting in front of A.J. Ellis instead of Zach Greinke might not be significant. Pederson has seen 4.3 pitches per plate appearances so far this season, fifth-highest in the National League
It is still early in the season, but the Dodgers look to have made a good decision by making the 23-year-old their starting center fielder. Our FanGraphs Depth Charts have Pederson hitting .235/.329/.412 the rest of the way, good for a wRC+ of 112. Taken with his strong early season performance, Pederson could be well on his way to a four-win season as he takes on presumptive favorite Kris Bryant for National League Rookie of the Year.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.