It’s no secret that the Yankees’ lineup is dominated by right-handed hitters. Great righties, without a doubt. But at the same time, Kevin Cash’s Rays had no problem matching up against the Bombers’ bats in the ALDS. The offense still had some good performances in the series and is far from the only issue facing the Yankees’ roster, but it’s clear that it could use some balance. Aside from switch-hitting Aaron Hicks, the Yankees really lacked a threat from the left side this season. It’s something that should be addressed this winter. Randy and I discussed it on the podcast, too.
Inserting another good left-handed hitter is easier said than done, of course. From top to bottom, the Yankees’ lineup is built with some of the best righties in the sport. Trading Luke Voit for the sake of lineup balance is not a good idea. He’s been an elite hitter ever since the Yankees acquired him from St. Louis. Really, the Yankees are backed into a corner in terms of starters. The only open position this offseason is second base (or shortstop, if you want to move Gleyber Torres over), but at the same time, this team needs to bring free agent DJ LeMahieu back. I suppose catcher too if you really want to dump Gary Sánchez, but get back to me when you find a good left-handed catcher available. So, the Yankees will have to attack this balance issue differently.
Lost in the craziness of the Betts/Price trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers was the failed Joc Pederson trade to the Los Angeles Angels. According to reports, Angels owner Arte Moreno was unhappy with waiting on the Betts deal to complete. The Angels missed out on an opportunity to bring in an above-average lefty power bat to man right field. One person’s impatience can lead to another man’s chance at opportunity. That man should be Brian Cashman.
Joc Pederson would be a nice addition to the Yankees. I mentioned this in an earlier column, but it is worth repeating. The Yankees spent $324 million on Gerrit Cole. This is as strong an indication of the Yankees intentions as you can imagine. They want to win multiple titles. In order to accomplish this, the team should look to maximize each available roster spot with as many high quality players as possible. This is stating the obvious, but it is a pretty difficult strategy to execute. Pederson would be able to address multiple needs of the roster, but only filling up one slot. Let’s take a deeper dive.
A Productive Lefty Bat
The departure of Didi Gregorius and the injury to Aaron Hicks leaves Brett Gardner as the only lefty regular in the lineup. Fortunately, the team has two good bats in Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford, but there is a need for more. Joc Pederson would immediately slot in as the top lefty hitter in the lineup. In 2019, Pederson hit .249/.339/.538/.876 with 36 home runs in 450 at-bats. There is the obvious caveat of the juiced ball, but Pederson hit 26 and 25 homers as a 23 and 24-year-old in 2014 and 2015 respectively so power isn’t foreign to him.
Looking beyond the standard stats, we will see some encouraging trends for Pederson. We will start with his wOBA:
According to Fangraphs, wOBA combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighing each of them in proportion to their actual run value. It is a more accurate metric of a player’s contribution to scoring runs. As we can see from this graph, Pederson sits comfortably as an above average offensive contributor. He finished 2019 in the 69th percentile in this measurement. This captures Pederson’s diverse skillset in impacting the offensive side of the game. While his main contribution is power, he isn’t simply a slugger looking for that one pitch to drive out of the park. There is another trend resting under the hood that should excite Yankees fans.
Pederson’s strikeout rate sits below the league average over the last three years:
I didn’t expect to see this when researching Pederson’s data. I always thought Joc was a free swinger taking big hacks hunting for homers. That clearly isn’t the case. There was a jump in 2019, but that makes sense given the league-wide increase in strikeouts.
These metrics paint a pretty nice picture of Pederson’s overall ability as an offensive player. He creates runs in multiple ways and is improving as a disciplined hitter. Of course, his calling card remains his power.
The Power Is Legit
Joc Pederson hits the ball very hard. In 2019, his average exit velocity of 90.9 mph sat in the 83rd percentile. His hard hit percentage of 43.5% sat in the 76th percentile. Over the course of his career, Pederson routinely sits in the higher rankings of any hard hit ball measurement.
There has also been a conscious effort to get the ball in the air with more consistency. Over the last two seasons, Pederson’s average launch angles of 15.4 and 15.3, in 2018 and 2019 respectively, are the highest of his career. As a result, Pederson experienced the highest fly ball rates of his career. Joc hitting the ball with consistent authority in the air leads to improved performances like this :
This is a player who knows his strengths and is developing ways to maximize them. Sure, the juiced ball factors in, but that does a disservice to the clear improvement Pederson is making as a power hitter. There is another aspect of Joc’s offensive profile that suggests increased productivity could be on the way.
Improved Control Of The Strike Zone
Oftentimes when we think of strike zone control balls and strikes immediately come to mind. Strike zone control also refers to the types of pitches batters swing at in the zone. Hitters could let mistakes go by while swinging at a pitch with great command. Pederson is being more aggressive with swings in the zone while maintaining an average zone contact rate. Here is a look at Pederson’s z-swing% or swing rate in the strike zone over his career:
This is important because it shows that Pederson is giving himself more chances to positively impact the baseball. Yes, he has an average contact rate in the zone, but increasing the usage of that swing increases the opportunity to do damage. There is one more aspect to this that will give a clearer understanding of Pederson’s production over the last year.
He is pulling the ball more now than at any other point in his career. According to statcast, Joc pulled the ball 46% of the time in 2019. Prior to last year, the closest Pederson came to that number was in 2016 with a 40.1% pull rate. He is hitting the ball in the air with authority to his pull side. This would work incredibly well in Yankee Stadium.
Defense and Platoon Issues
We won’t be confusing Joc Pederson with Lorenzo Cain or Victor Robles in the outfield. Spending his time in right field this past season, Pederson ended up with an Outs Above Average of 3. That ranks him 32nd amongst outfielders behind guys like Steven Duggar, Hunter Renfroe, and Brian Goodwin. Interestingly enough, he’s ranked ahead of players like Kevin Pillar and…Brett Gardner. Pederson is a solid defender who can competently man both corner outfield positions. The Yankees would be better served to have Mike Tauchman back up center while Hicks recovers from Tommy John surgery.
The platoon splits are a legitimate concern. He has a career OPS of .572 with a slugging percentage of .310 against left handed pitchers. He has nine home runs against lefties versus 114 against righties. While these numbers are alarming, there may be some important context to consider.
The Dodgers fully believe in positional flexibility, versatility, and matchups. They are looking to create as many advantages as possible. This includes a heavy reliance upon platoons. Remember, they didn’t want Cody Bellinger facing lefties early on in his career. Bellinger is a top 5 hitter in the entire sport. Pederson only has 336 at bats against lefties. He has 1696 at bats against righties. We don’t actually know if Pederson can hit lefties because he hasn’t been given a fair chance to do so. This could be another Didi Gregorius situation.
Is There A Chance It Happens?
There is always the possibility of Ninja Cash swooping in and acquiring a player who is trending upwards. There are a lot of things to like about Pederson. He hits the ball hard. 40 home runs is a real possibility. There is a need for some lineup balance despite many people downplaying its importance. He provides solid defense. The Yankees believe in load management so providing Aaron Boone with another quality piece to rotate amongst Stanton, Voit, Tauchman, and Andújar is aggressive and smart. There is real Curtis Granderson 2.0 potential as Matt mentioned on Twitter. The Dodgers are clearly willing to move him in the right deal.
It just doesn’t feel like the Yankees will make the move. They certainly have the prospect capital to do it, but the team appears to be content with their roster heading into spring training. The team is also firmly over the third luxury tax threshold at $258 million according to Cots. An argument could be made that once a team surpasses the third luxury tax threshold it makes sense to blow by it since the tax penalty is set. It is a nice theory, but teams don’t operate that way in this day and age.
A Pederson trade during spring training would virtually eliminate any opportunity for the team to address potential issues that may pop up between now and the trade deadline. There are positions that may need more attention as the season progresses so positions like back up middle infielder or bullpen may be worth the added splurge.
Joc Pederson is a good player and could be even better in a full time role. The move is tantalizing. It is one the Yankees should strongly consider if not now than some further point in the season.