What If Joc Pederson Can’t Turn It Around?

I know, I know: You all want to talk about the bullpen! And we will, probably! But this was already pre-loaded for Monday morning, and it’s still a relevant concern. So onward we march.

You surely don’t need me to tell you that after a stellar start to 2015, it’s been a rough slide for Joc Pederson. I will anyway, though, roughly splitting his season into halves:

Through June 5: 224 PA, 173 wRC+, 17 homers, .266/.390/.603, 15.6 BB%, 29.0 K%
June 6 to date: 219 PA, 82 wRC+, 4 homers, .181/.320/.297, 14.6 BB%, 29.2 K%

Despite some narrative about the Home Run Derby messing up his swing, that’s simply not true — he was hitting just .192/.339/.343 in the 30 days leading up to that. To a certain extent, a backslide was always inevitable. Pederson wasn’t going to keep up that first month, because it was never realistic to think he was going to hit 50 homers as a rookie, and pitchers would adjust. They have, and now he’s got to prove he can adjust back. Obviously, he’s more than proven that he deserves the opportunity to do so.

So that’s all well and good, but… what if he doesn’t? I’m not saying what if he doesn’t “ever,” in terms of what kind of career he may ultimately have, I’m saying in the relatively limited time left in the 2015 season. We’re now rapidly approaching the point where Pederson has been a detriment on offense for more time than he’s been a help, and at some point, you wonder whether the real, immediate needs of the team outweigh the desire to let a young player work through his struggles. (Most interesting: he’s not actually striking out more, as you’d think. He’s just doing a whole lot less when he makes contact.)

Now, I don’t think he’s going to get benched, for two pretty obvious reasons. One is that his defense has still been useful; though he’s not particularly loved by UZR or DRS, compared to what the Dodgers had in center for most of the previous five years, he’s been a big step up. The second is, who would you replace him with? We all like Enrique Hernandez, but would he be exposed playing every day? (Not to mention the loss of his versatility elsewhere, particularly if he’s now needed more at second pending the severity of Howie Kendrick‘s injury.) Chris Heisey has been cut. Darnell Sweeney and Jose Peraza are both interesting prospects, but this doesn’t seem like the spot. Do you push Yasiel Puig or Andre Ethier back to center again, to give more time to Scott Van Slyke or Carl Crawford? And what about in October, if Pederson is well into a fifth month of struggle and now has to contend with rested, above-average pitchers?

I ask, really, because I’ve been seeing fans wanting to send Pederson to the minors. That’s not going to happen for any number of reasons, including that the minor league seasons are coming to an end. Understandably, those suggestions have been met with derision and laughter. I’m not sure I know the answer. I do know that the question isn’t as absurd as it sounds. All the focus right now is on the bullpen. This might be a bigger deal. As we saw in April, an offense with a dangerous Pederson is a very good one. It looks a lot different without him.

About Mike Petriello

Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.