Yasiel Puig’s center field competence could make Joc Pederson expendable

It’s hard to believe it was two months ago, but that’s when Scott Van Slyke began to get regular looks in center field for the Dodgers. He did about as well as could be expected from a guy who is 6’5, 220 pounds (that’s his listed weight, but he weighs a little more than that).

We were clamoring (expecting?) Joc Pederson to be be recalled to take over full-time center field duties. After all, this team didn’t have a legitimate center fielder on the roster. Matt Kemp (-32.1 UZR/150, -12 DRS), Van Slyke (-11.7, -1) and Andre Ethier (-4.2, -5) all are not center fielders, yet all played a significant number of innings there. But, the team actually did have a legitimate center fielder on the roster: Yasiel Puig.

This comes on the heels of last night’s catch in Anaheim that preserved a 4-0 lead. While the route Puig took wasn’t efficient, as The Conman pointed out in the comments section of the recap from last night, the route probably prevented Puig from going up against a wall. We all know how well the Dodgers’ center fielders have done versus walls in the last few years (terrible). Puig is a more instinctual player than some expect, dating back to his MLB debut last year.

I’m talking about the throw he made to end the game. Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus said (paraphrased, of course) on the Fringe Average podcast that, despite Puig not looking like he knew what he was doing, Puig intentionally did that to get Chris Denorfia to stray far enough away from first base to have a shot at throwing him out. Conman’s comment makes me wonder if Puig did the same thing while tracking down Josh Hamilton‘s would-be 2-run double or triple. It’s either that or he just got lucky — something he seems to do at times. My wife (oh snap!) has said to me on a few occasions, “Puig is accidentally good.” It’s hard to argue with her on that, but he’s also immensely talented.

And despite logging just 107 innings in center field this season, the defensive metrics like Puig in center field. He has a 2.8 UZR/150 and -1 defensive run saved. He isn’t Jackie Bradley Jr out there, but he’s much better than the below-average to bad defenders the Dodgers have been running out there. The funny thing is, the metrics aren’t super high on Puig in right field (-4.0 UZR/150, 0 DRS), but the eyeball test proves he’s a budding plus-defender in right field. Puig’s arm, which is one of the best in baseball as a right fielder, plays up a lot in center field. Having a natural right fielder like Kemp taking over for Puig, it improves the entire outfield defense quite a bit.

This isn’t particularly great news for Pederson’s prospects of debuting before September. He went from a lock to be the Dodgers’ center fielder in the playoffs to getting a cup of coffee in September. Pederson, 22, profiles better in left field long-term, but he’ll be able to handle center field early in his career.

Luckily, Puig’s emergence in center field makes it a little easier to stomach trading Pederson for an upgrade elsewhere. Enter Giancarlo Stanton.

I started writing this post before I saw this:

From the article:

“The hope on the part of rivals for a trade may possibly be bolstered in some cases by knowledge the Marlins spent a fair amount of time and resources scouting some minor-league systems and players, though extra scouting should only be expected since Miami beefed up its scouting ranks since the hiring of Dan Jennings as general manager a year ago. The Red Sox and his hometown Dodgers — Stanton is from Panorama City in the Los Angeles Valley — are among two of many teams known to have made several inquiries about Stanton, though oftentimes they come down to casual mentions between scouts since Miami has made clear it isn’t listening to offers for him.”

My obsession over Stanton, 24, is well-documented, and I’d give up all of the prospects to get him in Dodger Blue. But a package led by Pederson and Julio Urias would be a nice starting point for the slugger, who is about to get really expensive (I’d even consider including Corey Seager). He’s making $6.5 million this season, and figures to push eight figures this offseason in arbitration. That isn’t a prohibitive amount for any team not named the Astros, but the Marlins could cash in big time this winter if they trade Stanton, who is going to bolt via free agency in a few years anyway.

This is getting too close to rosterbating, but in the span of a two weeks, Puig has gone from profile right fielder to passable center fielder. Pederson has gone from 10-year center fielder to trade bait (he was already, but he’s a little more expendable at this point). But let’s just be happy with Puig’s play in center field for now.

About Dustin Nosler

Avatar photo
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.