The formula for Joc Pederson’s success so far in his Major League Baseball career has been both reasonably effective and seemingly simple: swing hard, miss a lot, but when you do connect, smoke the ball (this is a technical term).
That approach is largely why Pederson has been near the top of the league in both exit velocity (max and average) and strikeout rate throughout his major league career. This year, however, at age 30, the Giants slugger has kept his strength to the tune of 11 homers to go with his .267 average and .586 slugging percentage, each of which would be a career high for a full season. He’s significantly lowered the strikeouts to their lowest rate since 2018, which might suggest a more patient or discerning approach at the plate.
That hasn’t seemingly happened, though.
Pederson is actually swinging more often than he has in his career, and whiffing on pitches outside the zone more often. Instead, the major change appears to be in the way pitchers are attacking him.
Joc is swinging at about as many pitches in the zone as he usually does, but is getting more pitches in the zone than at any point in his career (49.5%). And he’s crushing them, making contact on what would again be a career-high 82.2% of pitches that he’s thrown in the zone. Why?
The pitches he’s seeing in the zone aren’t particularly close to pitcher-friendly. A full 8% of the pitches thrown to him are classified as “meatballs” on Baseball Savant, meaning they’re right down the middle of the zone. On those pitches, Joc is swinging at a full 87% of them, also a career-high. To put that in perspective, Pederson is being pitched more like Jackie Bradley Jr. than Giancarlo Stanton. Perhaps that’s not an ideal approach for pitching to one of baseball’s hardest-hitting batters throughout his career.
In fact, among players with at least 100 PA this season and are seeing at least 8% meatballs, only Yordan Alvarez has a higher average exit velocity. (Note: pitchers should also not throw Yordan Alvarez pitches right down the middle).
Pederson also walks slightly above the league average rate, so it’s not as if pitchers can just throw him garbage and get away with it, either. It’s easy to say “throw him better strikes,” which are a matter of inches, from the couch as you help yourself to to an extra scoop of frosting off the side of the leftover birthday cake from the fridge — just a bit here so it doesn’t look so lopsided, and no one is any the wiser. It’s hard to identify exactly where to pitch Pederson — such is going to be the case when you’re second in xWOBA in all of baseball. There could be a case to throw Pederson low pitches, however, which he struggles with more than anywhere else in the zone.
That’s a lot of pitches either in the middle of the zone or far enough out as to not be a serious worry for Pederson. He has been able to do damage on them, as Pederson is both slugging higher on the pitch (.905) and whiffing less (7.9%) than on any other.
Meanwhile, Pederson is whiffing more on those sliders and changeups than any other pitch, yet they make up only 29% of the pitches he’s seeing. If there’s an adjustment to be made to how he’s getting pitched, those pitches low in the zone may hold the key.
Across his first 133 plate appearances, Pederson is having his best season at the plate in his career, even with a near career-low BABIP (.244). The way he’s being pitched is either mystifying or the product of a small sample size that pitchers will soon adjust to — that remains to be seen. Joc Pederson is pretty much the same very good player he’s always been, but it’s the pitchers who have approached him differently so far.
Pederson has just capitalized on that mistake.
Photos by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire and Jason Leung/Unsplash | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)