I suppose I should preface this by saying I have no scouting background, and I don’t pretend to. What I know about Joc Pederson comes entirely from a.) things written by actual, paid scouts and b.) numbers. This post will be using the latter, and not the former, in an attempt to produce an MLB comparison for Pederson, the Los Angeles Dodgers rookie. If that’s the sort of thing you’re into, great. If it’s not, well, thankfully you haven’t spent too much time reading this so far, and there are myriad scouts’ opinions on Pederson. For instance, here are a couple excerpts from our very own Kiley McDaniel, an actual paid scout:
Pederson is an above-average runner with a solid-average arm that can play all three outfield positions and has the instincts to get the most out of his speed on defense and on the base paths. I think he fits best long-term in an outfield corner but the best-case scenario, which at least one scout I talked to today has as his projection for Pederson, is a 60 hit and 60 power center fielder along the lines of Jim Edmonds. In the short-term, the thing to watch will be how much contact he makes against tough lefties.
Look, there’s a comp right there! Jim Edmonds! Lofty praise. Which brings us to the point of Joc Pederson, and his high expectations. He’s the starting center fielder on a team that not only has World Series hopes, but could be considered a World Series favorite. And the entirety of his big league experience amounts to 38 understandably bad at-bats in September last year.
Pederson, being a rookie, is something of an unknown commodity. But as far as unknown commodities go, what we do know is pretty good. If the Dodgers weren’t comfortable starting the season with Pederson in center, they would have just turned their seemingly infinite wealth into a new, better center fielder. Instead, they’re sticking with Pederson, and that tells us something. Also, that Pederson hit 33 homers and stole 30 bases in Triple-A last year tells us something.
But there’s something about Pederson’s game that warrants a pause. A natural cause for concern. Observe Pederson’s strikeout rates from the past three years in the minor leagues:
- A: 16%
- AA: 22%
- AAA: 27%
We got to know Pederson as a guy who struck out about as often as Dee Gordon. Now, we know him as a guy who strikes out about as often as Pedro Alvarez. On the contrary, his offense production has also risen each year, but the strikeouts still provide some hesitation.
Some might equate strikeout rate to something like a risk factor. It’s not that there’s a direct correlation between strikeout rate and offensive production, but there is a limit on how much one can strikeout and still be useful. Someone like Chris Carter, for example, doesn’t have much wiggle room. What he’s doing right now — striking out a ton and producing — is OK. But he’s walking a fine line with the strikeouts, and if they go up much more, he might find himself without regular playing time. Javier Baez will probably walk a similar line this year.
On the other hand, take a look at a couple of Pederson’s peers, in Jorge Soler and Mookie Betts. Soler struck out about 20% of the time in minors, is projected for about the same, and is considered safe. Betts struck out about 12% of the time in the minors, is projected for about the same, and is considered very safe. With Pederson, there’s risk, but that risk comes with considerable upside.
So the real question we want to know is, how have similar players fared? Guys who come up with elite tools, but strike out a ton — what becomes of their careers? I should note that to go along with Pederson’s high whiff rates comes a high walk rate, which demonstrates that it’s not discipline or vision that’s Pederson’s problem, but rather contact ability — likely a byproduct of swinging really hard. Think George Springer, but less freak of nature.
Let’s start with what we can expect. Take Pederson’s projections from ZiPS and Steamer for this year, mix them together and you get this, prorated to 600 PA:
- .234/.323/.404, 22 HR, 20 SB, 27.5 K%, 11.1 BB%, .170 ISO
That’s quite good! The average and on-base aren’t beating the world, but again, you’ll certainly take that when getting 20/20 from a rookie in center field.
To find comparisons, I focused on those last four numbers. Those numbers give you a good sense of Pederson: strikeouts, but with discipline. Power, with speed. I searched rookies from the last 20 years with a strikeout rate above 20%, a walk rate no less than 8%, an ISO that was at least league-average and more than 10 steals. Sure, they’re arbitrary endpoints, and maybe you would have chosen slightly different parameters, but it hits on Pederson’s unique offensive skillset pretty well. You came for the comps, so let’s get to them.
Rookie season: .231/.329/.416, 18 HR, 20 SB, 22.9 K%, 12.0 BB%, .185 ISO
The numbers match up perfectly, and that’s a plus for those invested in the future of Pederson and the Dodgers. The only thing that seems off is strikeouts, but not once the era is considered. In 1997 — Andruw Jones’ rookie year — the average strikeout rate was 17%, meaning Jones’ strikeout rate was 134% of the league average. Pederson’s projected strikeout rate puts him at about 135% of the league average, so the two are identical.
We know how Andruw Jones’ career turned out, and some would argue he’s worthy of the Hall of Fame. The main reason for that, though, was his defense. Pederson doesn’t, and won’t, have Jones’ defense, but this post is focusing on offensive comps. Offensively, Jones was able to shed the strikeouts after his rookie year and keep the discipline and the power. The steals only lasted five seasons, but he still racked up 152 during his career. So, maybe it’s that Joc Pederson could be the left-handed Andruw Jones, just without the Gold Glove defense.
Rookie season: .259/.356/.433, 14 HR, 23 SB, 23.5 K%, 12.3 BB%, .174 ISO
Mike Cameron, who also debuted in ’97, was essentially Andruw Jones-lite. He wasn’t as good defensively, and he didn’t quite have Jones’ power. And unlike Jones, Cameron never solved his strikeout problems, carrying a 24% career whiff rate that limited his offensive potential. Perhaps the version of Joc Pederson that never solves his strikeout problems becomes Mike Cameron.
Rookie season: .259/.350/.502, 26 HR, 11 SB, 28.7 K%, 8.5 BB%, .222 ISO
So maybe this one’s a bit of a stretch, but when we start with Andruw Jones, we’ve got to include a bottom-percentile comparison too. Preston Wilson was far more hacker than Pederson appears to be — he struck out at 175% of the league average, which is crazy extreme, but maybe Wilson serves as the ultimate downside for the version of Joc Pederson that totally sells out for power. Wilson was able to shave the strikeouts down a bit over his career, but ultimately didn’t get on base enough to be entirely useful before injuries derailed his 10-WAR career.
“Rookie” season: .300/.386/.508, 24 HR, 22 SB, 28.1 K%, 11.9 BB%, .209 ISO
In an attempt to find a more recent comp, I had to fudge the numbers a bit. You’ll notice the word rookie is in quotes, because these are the numbers from B.J. Upton’s third trip to the bigs, but it’s his first full season. Upton was rushed to the majors as a teenager and had two bad seasons of fewer than 200 PA before beginning to play every day.
And while this might seem like a terrifying comparison to Dodgers fans, remember Upton was actually a great player before Atlanta. If Pederson gives the Dodgers between 3 WAR and 4 WAR per season for six years like the Rays got out of Upton, the team will be quite pleased. But perhaps Upton is the most extreme personification of the “thin line” discussed earlier with regards to strikeout rate. Upton’s strikeout rate ballooned in Atlanta, and it single-handedly turned a great player into a nearly useless one.
Of course, none of this is to say we should expect Pederson to become any of these players. That would require machines and technology that don’t yet exist. That’s crazy. All we should expect is that he continue being himself. Comparisons are simply exercises to provide context, when, in this particular instance, we have very little.
But from the scouts, you hear traces of Jim Edmonds. From the numbers, you get a pool of incredibly talented players who achieved varying degrees of success. The most logical comparison that came from this exercise is something like a left-handed version of Mike Cameron. If the strikeouts get out of control, maybe you get Preston Wilson. If the strikeouts can only be contained for so long, maybe you get an elite prime but a sharp dropoff, a la B.J. Upton. Or maybe, just maybe, if everything goes perfect, Pederson shaves the strikeouts, keeps the power and discipline, and ends up mirroring Andruw Jones at the plate.
For the Dodgers, that’s nice and all, but they’re just glad they have Joc Pederson.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.