At least, that’s what it feels like in the early going. Joc Pederson didn’t start on Thursday night against Robbie Ray. I made note of it in the game thread. The fact is, it seems like he has been relegated to a platoon role.
This isn’t a slight at Trayce Thompson by any means. He’s talented and deserves a chance to show what he can do. But Pederson’s development shouldn’t be stunted, impeded, stifled, et al, to get Thompson playing time. There are other ways to get him into the lineup (especially with Scott Van Slyke on the disabled list).
I’m not saying Pederson needs to play every single game against left-handed starters, but he has not started against a lefty starting pitcher this season, and he has just three plate appearances against them. It’s a small sample size, but I could see it, easily, become a trend.
Pederson started the first five games of the season — all against righties. In the last five, Thompson has started three because those games were started by Madison Bumgarner, Patrick Corbin and the aforementioned Ray. Quality starters for sure, but Pederson isn’t going to get any better against left-handed pitchers if he isn’t playing against them. Pederson was a premium prospect coming up the minor-league ladder and has shown the ability to hit lefties in the minors and the majors.
In the minors, he hit .273/.383/.432 in 579 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. Last year in the majors, he hit .216/.295/.397. He also had an ugly 37.2 percent strikeout rate against them. While that far from impressive, he did hit six home runs against southpaws, including one against Bumgarner in September.
“If anyone needed a good game outside of Joc Pederson, I’m not sure who that player is. Going up against Bumgarner, it wasn’t going to be an easy task. But Pederson looked pretty solid in his first two plate appearances, even though he made two outs.”
Pederson flied out in his first two plate appearances. The fly outs averaged 92.5 MPH exit velocity and 321.5 feet. He would then hit the eventual game-winning home run in the eighth inning.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) September 2, 2015
“Shades of April and May. That ball had an exit velocity of 106 MPH and traveled 399 feet … after Pederson got behind in the count 0-2. That made it 2-0 Dodgers. It was the best plate appearance Pederson has had in a month or two, and it was the best his swing has looked in a long time. I know it’s just one game, but it’s still encouraging, especially against a great pitcher like Bumgarner.”
Small sample size in the midst of one half-season-long slump, but Pederson absolutely has the ability to hit lefties. He even had a 3-game stretch from May 31 to June 2 when he hit homers off Kevin Siegrist, Christian Friedrich and Jorge De La Rosa — all left-handers. He might ultimately be Andre Ethier against lefties someday, but that is unknown right now. I’m not thrilled with the way he’s being handled so far. Perhaps it’s all part of a plan, but right now, it seems like he’s a victim of the team’s quality depth. Enrique Hernandez needs to be in every game against a lefty and Thompson profiles better against them, too. It also doesn’t do Thompson any favors by not playing him much against right-handers (despite a .269/.364/.448 triple slash against them last season).
I know Pederson is working on becoming more consistent, but it’s hard to completely do so when he isn’t playing every day. Because he still profiles as an every day guy. Thompson might as well, but Pederson has more talent than Thompson.
The Dodgers face Bumgarner tonight, so I’m assuming Pederson will be benched again. Luckily for him, the next lefty starter the Dodgers face won’t be until April 25 (eight games, Wei-Yen Chen), provided the pitching matchups remain as is (which they probably won’t).
If Pederson had looked absolutely lost against lefties, I’d feel differently. But he hasn’t. He’s just 24 years old. It’s far too early in his career to label him a platoon player. Here’s hoping the trend changes as the season progresses.