With Spring Training at an end, one of the final roster decisions was (improbably) “Who will back up Matt Kemp in left field?” That decision came down to Andrew Toles and Joc Pederson. After the conclusion of last night’s spring finale, news broke that a choice has been made:
Dodgers optioned Andrew Toles to OKC
— Eric Stephen (@truebluela) March 28, 2018
Most will find this news pretty disappointing. In spring Toles hit .283/.286/.566 in his bid to prove that his knee has recovered. Pederson hit .148/.246/.259 in his bid to prove that his late-season slide was an aberration. Of those two batting lines, the edge easily goes to Toles, though not without reservations — he walked once and struck out 15 times in 53 plate appearances, after all.
Even with Toles’ plate discipline issues, it seems like the current best iteration of the Dodgers’ left field position would be a straight platoon between him and Kemp, with Enrique Hernandez playing mostly in the infield while Justin Turner recovers form a fractured wrist. Instead, it looks as if Kemp will get most of the playing time in left, with Pederson filling in primarily as a bench bat. Seeing the Dodgers not use the best iteration is frustrating, but it seems like a strong possibility that they want to get Toles everyday playing time while the Kemp situation plays out.
For a player recovering from injury, this feels like a prudent course of action, and it’s not like Toles doesn’t have some things to work on. Additionally, the Dodgers may be a little more comfortable with Pederson filling in at center as required (though they probably shouldn’t be, given how bad he was there last season).
Still, even after the rough spring and rougher late-summer, we should not forget the potential that Joc Pederson still holds. Many fans have always disliked him, but he’s only two regular-season months removed from looking like the same 2-3 win player that he was in the early seasons of his young career (with whatever penalty comes from playing probably-decent defense in left rather than mediocre defense in center). Still, that slide between August and the World Series was so bad that it can’t be ignored completely, and Pederson’s spring hasn’t put those questions to bed.
In a way, that criticism has become numbing: if people complain about Pederson being bad when he’s a very useful player, it’s harder to care about what they complain about after a severe slump. If anything, the most common criticism of Pederson has been wrong: “he strikes out too much” just isn’t true. It wasn’t true when Pederson was really good, and it was especially untrue when he was really bad for the last two months of last season. Here is a quick snapshot of Pederson’s career to help illustrate that point:
|Year||K%||ISO on BIP||wOBA on BIP|
|2017 (before Aug. 1)||21.8||0.308||0.403|
|2017 (after Aug. 1)||18.3||0.087||0.148|
Pederson just didn’t strike out much last season, and in the depths of his horrible slump, he was striking out even less. The biggest issue was that he wasn’t doing any damage on balls in play. Some of this may have been luck — ball in play results are notoriously unstable — but it wasn’t just that. Pederson wasn’t hitting the ball with as much authority, something that can be seen as being related to that strikeout rate drop. Swinging for the fences can work pretty well in the current iteration of MLB — just ask Cody Bellinger (or the 2017 World Series version of Pederson) — but something obviously changed when Pederson stopped hitting for power. Pinpointing what that was is beyond the scope of this article, especially given how often Pederson seems to change his swing.
Regardless of this current decision, it’s worth remembering that it’s not locked in long-term. Kemp’s leash is likely pretty short, and injuries will happen over the course of the season. It would not be surprising at all to see Toles back up in a matter of weeks, not months. As such, regular playing time will probably be pretty helpful. In the meantime, having Pederson’s power threat on the bench will not be the worst thing in the world.
“It was a tough decision,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Trayce does a lot of things well. Just where our roster is, an opportunity wasn’t an option.”
“With Trayce, he’s a guy that needs to go out there and play,” Roberts said. “We talked about it before, that when he had his success here, there was a two-month spurt when he got to play on a nightly basis, and we just didn’t see that for him right now.” While Roberts sounded hopeful that Thompson would make it through waivers and remain with the organization, he sounded resigned to the fact that the outfielder would be claimed by another club. “I think there is some interest in him, and we wish Trayce all the best,” Roberts said.
Meanwhile, Cory Mazzoni was claimed off waivers, added to the 40-man roster, and then optioned to AAA as he had the one left that Trayce did not. I guess Mazzoni is depth, but he’s definitely a candidate to be designated himself should the Dodgers need 40-man roster space.