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Acquiring Joc Pederson Made Sense

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Joc Pederson.
Joc Pederson.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Why did Joc Pederson sign with the Diamondbacks?

Joc Pederson wants to play in the postseason. This offseason, the Diamondbacks significantly improved their team. Last season, they reached the World Series.

Joc Pederson wants to improve his value as a free agent (after his one-year with an option contract). Improving his value means being more than a DH against right-handed pitchers.

One way to improve his value is better batting against left-handed pitchers. Joe Mather, the Diamondbacks’ hitting coach was chosen by Lovullo because he is a great teacher, he understands how the bat enters and leaves the strike zone, and he knows how to position batters for the most success.

A second way to improve his value is by playing a defensive position. One possibility is play in the outfield, which would be a challenge because the Diamondbacks have excellent defensive outfielders. It is nevertheless possible because first base coach Dave McKay is one of the best outfield instructors in baseball. Another possibility is play first base. The Diamondbacks backup firstbasemen’s bats are projected to be lesser than Pederson.

Why did acquiring a DH make good sense for the Diamondbacks?

There are a few reasons that acquiring a DH made sense.

Last season, six players who are not expected to return this season (Longoria, Pham, Lewis, Canzone, Rojas, and Kennedy) started 70 games as DH. Someone needs to fill DH in the lineup!

Last season, the Diamondbacks batting performance at DH ranked low and Peterson could improve the DH batting. Last season’s performance follows (data from Baseball Savant):

  • OBP: DH Average in Majors .322, D-backs .286 (ranked 28th).
  • SLG: DH Average in Majors .430, D-backs .390 (ranked 26th).
  • HR: DH Average in Majors 25.9, D-backs 22 (ranked 21st).
  • EV: DH Average in Majors 89.7, D-backs 89.6 (ranked 16th).

Last season, as a DH Pederson exceeded the Diamondbacks’ average and the Majors’ average for OBP, SLG, and EV (but not HRs). Pedersons’ DH statistics follow:

  • OBP: .356.
  • SLG: .457 per Baseball Savant, .473 per Baseball Reference.
  • HR: 15 HRs.
  • AV: 92.1 MPH average EV.

Last season, three everyday players (Carroll, Marte, and Walker) split 11 games as the DH. Arguably, those days helped them stay rested and injury free. To retain that benefit, either Joc Pederson or those three players may take 11 games on-the-bench, perhaps with a few emergency pinch hits. 11 games on-the-bench is about 7% of the season.

Last season’s batting provides insights.

The following table shows last season’s batting results.

2023 Season. Data from Baseball Savant. Row showing vs Dodgers and Padres – SLG and EVs calculated from batted-ball raw-data provided by Baseball Savant.

Several observations about Joc Pederson follow:

  • His SLG and exit velocities were better than the average in the Majors (all regular season PAs).
  • He was at his best when he batted as a DH, and he was at his best when he faced right-handed pitchers.
  • A concern is a possible inconsistency in his excellent results as a DH facing right-handed pitchers; when he faced the Dodgers and Padres, his SLG was dramatically lower. My concern is that those teams may have found subtle ways to neutralize his effectiveness. Two clues are that facing those teams, his hard-hit percentage is lower (44.4% vs 48.0%) and his ground-ball percentage is higher (47.2% vs 40.4%). Perhaps my concern is not justified because 36 batted ball events is a small sample size.
  • Assuming that the Diamondbacks’ DH needs high SLG (and high exit velocities), as a DH vs right-handed pitchers, it is reasonable to argue that he is better than the four possible secondary DHs.
  • His SLG and exit velocities compare well to the Diamondbacks’ gold-standard batters (Marte and Carroll).

Last season, good plate discipline on the first pitch made a difference in Joc Pederson’s performance. The following table shows that when he took the first pitch (presumably because it was outside the strike zone) that his plate appearances had a better OBP, SLG, Homers per PA, and BABIP. Also, lower strikeouts per plate appearance.

2023 Season. Data from Baseball Reference.

One narrative is that Joc Pederson needs to bounce back from last season’s batting slump. Instead of a slump, my view is that last season was his best ever as a DH, and that he likely will continue to improve as a DH. Let’s look at OBP and SLG for the last two seasons. Comparing all PAs with just the DH PAs, clearly showed that Joc Pederson improved his batting results as a DH (from worse to better than his other PAs).

All PAs.

  • OBP stayed about the same (OBP changed from .353 to .348).
  • SLG got worse (SLG changed from .521 to .416).

Only DH PAs.

  • OBP improved (OBP changed from .250 to .356).
  • SLG improved (SLG changed from .366 to somewhere between .457 per Baseball Savant and .473 per Baseball Reference).

Secondary DH candidates.

Perhaps the secondary candidates would play DH when facing a left-handed pitcher or when the matchup (against either the starter or a reliever) is highly adventageous. Let’s consider the other possibilities.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr.. Last season, he was in the lineup as DH for 50 games out of his 139 games. Two reasons point towards having him in the field. First, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. batted better (OBP and SLG) when he was either in left field or a pinch hitter. Second, although batting is a strength of Gurriel, his batting is not as good as Pederson’s batting against right-handed pitchers.

Pavin Smith. Last season, his SLG was better as a DH than it was when he was in the field, but it was still less than Joc Pederson.

Emmanuel Rivera. His split was that he batted better against left-handed pitchers than right-handed pitchers. With that split he could platoon with Pederson as DH. And, surprisingly, his exit velocities were better than the other secondary DH candidates. However, Joc Pederson is the better choice for primary DH.

Dominic Fletcher. Last season was his debut in the Majors. He played in 28 games. His .441 SLG was outstanding. His defense is better than Jake McCarthy. If he shows up at spring training with a red-hot bat, then he will be in the field instead of Jake McCarthy.

Jake McCarthy. Last season’s low exit velocities show he is not ready for the DH position.

Jace Peterson. His strength is playing multiple positions. He does not fit in the DH position.

Summary.

Joc Pederson signed with the Diamondbacks to improve his value in future seasons.

Acquiring Joc Pederson made sense.

  • Six players with a total of 70 games at DH are not expected to return.
  • Joc Pederson could improve the Diamondbacks performance at DH, which ranks below average.
  • Three everyday players were kept relatively injury free with the help of a total of 11 DH games. Instead they can be on-the-bench with only a small impact.

A detailed look at Joc Pederson’s 2023 batting showed the following:

  • He bats better when he is a DH, and better still if he faces right-handed pitchers.
  • He is better than average as a DH, with a possible exception of home runs.
  • He is better than the secondary alternative DHs on the Diamondbacks.
  • His SLG and exit velocities compare well with two Diamondback gold-standard batters (Carroll and Marte).

A concern is performance against the Dodgers and Padres, although it’s likely explained by small sample size.

As a DH, his OBP and SLG improved last season, which is a different perspective than looking at all PAs.