Joc Pederson‘s new setup and swing stood out like a sore thumb at the beginning of Spring Training, and I mentioned as much at the time. While I cautioned against overreacting to a tiny sample size, Joc did continue with a similarly odd setup going forward. However, perhaps the most important part of that article was generally overlooked, specifically that it was disturbing how he had four different approaches and wasn’t finding any consistency. Fortunately then, while the oddness stayed over the next few weeks of Spring Training, Joc was consistent in his approach from plate appearance to plate appearance and seemed to thrive as a result.
The following five videos are all from different games and shows that he generally stuck with the same approach.
After a terrible initial start to Spring Training, Joc has ended up posting a solid .281/.339/.439/.777 line. And while statistics are generally meaningless in Spring Training, you’d much rather see progress in any form from a guy trying to revamp his mechanics, and that line while tinkering heavily with his swing is a rather impressive feat.
Despite the fact that Joc was hitting relatively well, though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was no way such a bizarre setup and approach would work over the long haul, basically for the same reasons I previously gave.
Joc’s main problems last year were likely his swing length, bat drag caused by his front-side mechanics, and weight distribution issues stemming from his lower-body mechanics. Thus, I find it odd that his swing length is the same, his foot now opens up to the shortstop and makes it easier for him to be front-side dominant, and that there’s now another step to get his stride started so that his bottom half appears even more rushed.
I kept reminding myself that surely new hitting coach Turner Ward knew what he was doing, even though it looked like he had Joc hitting off his heels and on the defensive. And eventually it turned out I just needed to be patient, as even the concern about the setup evaporated as the Dodgers crept closer to Opening Day.
As recently as March 26 against the White Sox, Joc stepped in with the same approach he had been using most of Spring Training…
…but after a day off, he came back against the Rangers on March 28 looking more conventional.
And much of the same was on display during yesterday’s game against the Angels.
Conventional doesn’t equal better, but in this case I think it works. The combination of better setup that removes an extraneous step and an abbreviated leg lift seems promising on the surface. It seems to achieve a happy medium that maintains a lot of the stuff that helped Joc achieve the leverage and loft that have gotten him to this point, while also streamlining his swing a bit to make sure he’s more frequently balanced and on time. An added bonus I observed was that his bat seems to be entering the hitting zone at a less steep angle now, resembling more like what he started out with last year than what he ended with.
So what was the point of the previous setup? I’m not sure, honestly. I assume it was to get Joc to keep his weight back and prevent him from over-committing on soft stuff, as one of his primary problems last year was getting eaten alive by breaking balls under his hands. Still, it would be a somewhat odd way to achieve that goal and ran the risk of developing a bad habit, but if the cue worked then it was worth it in the end.
So all of that’s good news for Joc, and I think he’s back on the right path with his swing now. That said, given how much the Dodgers have tinkered with Pederson’s swing over the past year, the most important part is that they let him stick with this and resist the temptation to abandon it or panic during the inevitable slump, because that’s probably how they got Joc into this mess to begin with.
Obviously there are still a lot of things that can go wrong with Joc in 2016, but during a Spring Training where people seriously entertained the possibility of replacing him with Trayce Thompson (who is basically Joc with less power and a lot less plate discipline for now), it’s worth remembering just how much upside Pederson has. And given that these adjustments seem to have put him back on the right path, there’s plenty of reason for optimism to go along with the caution.