So Chase Utley is in, taking Alberto Callaspo‘s place on both the 25- and 40-man rosters. As Dustin said, it’s a reasonable deal for both sides, because neither John Richy or Darnell Sweeney are irreplaceable. The question now is: How does this all work? It’s the focus of Buster Olney’s column today, reasonably asking how all the pieces will fit together, particularly when Howie Kendrick is healthy, and he refers to a Mark Saxon article that has an interesting angle:
Enrique Hernandez can play some center field and the Dodgers won’t have to simply live with Joc Pederson‘s monthlong slump. In fact, the Dodgers’ waning patience with Pederson’s at-bats seems to be part of the motivation for the deal. Pederson is 5 for his past 51 (.098) with 22 strikeouts. He will be playing less, a source said, even missing games against right-handed pitchers.
So about that Pederson slump: Hard to argue that he’s not a different player than we saw in April, and it’s been difficult to watch at times. It was just 10 days ago that I wrote about what an issue it would be if he didn’t turn it around. I followed that up with what I thought was an interesting take on the situation at MLB.com, showing that it actually had little to do with strikeouts, but was far more about making contact with worse pitches that he couldn’t drive.
Thing is, Pederson has been adjusting. Saxon says “5 for 51,” and I’m the first to admit that it’s difficult to talk around a .098 average. But that’s also not the entire story, because that makes it seem like in that span, he’s literally stepped to the plate just 51 times and made 46 outs, which is not true. Those 51 at-bats date back to July 26th in New York; since then, Pederson has come to the plate 72 times. Pederson has walked 19 times, nearly a 1:1 ratio to his 22 strikeouts. Despite what your Little League coach told you, a walk is not as good as a hit. But nor is it something to simply ignore, because walks have a ton of value. This is why you never use batting average — it ignores walks and considers singles and homers to be of equal value. Trust me, anyway, that front offices don’t use it.
Pederson’s putting up some of the most bizarre lines I can remember, actually. Over the last 30 days, he’s at .155/.344/.324, which is a 97 wRC+. Over the last 14, he’s .161/.413/.387, which is 132 wRC+, which is outstanding. Now, is that good enough? I don’t know. As much as I like walks, Pederson is at his best when he’s crushing baseballs. He’s not doing that enough right now. But there is, at least, evidence that he’s truly trying to change his approach.
So ultimately, this isn’t about the veracity of reports, because I’m absolutely certain Saxon has good sources who really are voicing concerns about Pederson. Nor is it about batting average, because while the team can’t possibly care about that stat, they do care about Pederson making regular, solid contact. It’s about the concern that the Utley trade was motivated, at least in part, by getting Hernandez more time at Pederson’s expense. Much as we all love Hernandez, it’s a downgrade on defense, and it doesn’t seem like the best way to shake Pederson back into what he was — especially since there’s actual evidence of improvement.
And who knows, maybe that’s not what happens. Maybe Kendrick’s hamstring is more serious than we know, or Utley or Hernandez really get some time backing up Justin Turner at third, or less playing time for Pederson really just means like, one less day a week, or the desire to not overuse Utley means Hernandez still sees plenty of second base time, or some combination of all of it. It’s rare that too much talent is a problem, and Utley is without question an addition of talent. It just shouldn’t be at the expense of Pederson, a talented young player who absolutely needs to get on track if this offense is going to produce enough to cover the deficiencies of the bullpen.