On August 19th, the Dodgers traded for Phillies second baseman Chase Utley. It was initially a puzzling move because although Howie Kendrick was down with a hamstring injury, Enrique Hernandez was on of the hottest hitters on the team at the time. Later though, it was revealed the trade wasn’t done to supplant Hernandez, but so that Hernandez could move to start in center field in place of Joc Pederson. The quick fall was enormous for Joc, who made the All-Star team and thrilled in the Home Run Derby but also hit .151/.296/.259/.555 over a two-month span in July and August. Suddenly, he was benched.
For all intents and purposes, Joc’s season appeared to be essentially over, with an aim on rebuilding himself and his swing over the off-season. But then Enrique also hurt his hamstring to join what seems like a basketball team’s worth of Dodgers with the same issue, and Joc had his job back. Since then, all he’s done in September is hit .306/.419/.500/.919 with 10 strikeouts and seven walks. Joc’s walk rate is still at 16.3%, matching his season norm, but his strikeout rate is currently 23.3%, easily the best of any month by 5% or so.
These numbers are always subject to fluctuate in small sample sizes, but a more promising sign may be that some of his power is also coming back. After posting ISOs of .298, .283, .273 from April to June, respectively, he followed that with .090 and .140 totals during his months of struggle. So far in September he’s rebounded, clocking in a .194, with both of his homers coming off lefties to boot.
So those are the facts of his September, but the more important question is whether it’s sustainable. The average definitely isn’t, but everything else is an interesting debate to have.
The fact that he’s been making mechanical adjustments to his swing has been well documented over the months, and I’ve argued previously that it seemed less than coincidental that his immense struggles started when the Dodgers wanted him to tweak his swing around June. I thought it was sort of an overreaction to his near 30% strikeout rate and a middling month, and it took a flawed but productive player and proceeded to immediately crater all of his production at the plate instead.
Now though, it appears he may have found something that works, and the most obvious change has been in his hand position.
Earlier This Year
Easy enough to spot, for sure, but it’s also a mainly superficial correction. His hands at the point of launching his swing are identical across the board, and generally speaking, whatever pre-swing position causes the hitter to feel comfortable is fine, so perhaps Joc finding a happy medium here has helped him loosen up a bit.
The more significant switch seems to have been to his lower half.
Earlier This Year
It’s not as obvious, but it’s quite clear he’s also been tinkering with his leg kick. After taking a significant bend to start the season, he’s now cut it down quite a bit to more of a lift than anything else. But again, like with his hands, that’s not important in itself. A high kick isn’t damning (see: Turner, Justin), but Joc would frequently leave himself exposed by getting out over his front knee (lunging) and also struggled with timing. Those flaws led to him getting eaten alive by breaking balls below his hands, and the pressing that followed led to a deterioration of his previously quality pitch selection.
Now, Joc appears to be much improved, staying back a bit longer and allowing his bat to work through the zone like it was early in the season instead of being off-balance and having to chop through the strike zone. Thus, I’m cautiously optimistic about these recent developments.
All of this looks a lot better, hypothetically at least, and while I’m still not convinced the Dodgers didn’t make things worse by trying to re-work his swing in the middle of the season after a bad month, something does appear to have clicked so far in September. Corey Seager has been all the rage recently, but getting Joc back on track would be an equally helpful development for a hobbled offense working to get healthy and productive again.