Not many issues regarding an individual player was discussed more in 2015 than Joc Pederson‘s swing and approach, especially as he begun to struggle immensely in the second half. In response to his slump, the Dodgers and Joc promised changes heading into 2016, and early signs in Spring Training have seen them deliver on that promise, according to J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles Daily News.
When Pederson reported for batting practice during the Dodgers’ first full-squad workout Thursday, the thud of his front foot was gone. In its place: a modest, measured step forward. The path of his bat to the baseball was more compact. It’s the swing of a man who is trying to cut down on strikeouts and isn’t worried about hitting the ball out of the park every time he bats.
“I’ve been working hard this offseason to work on becoming a better hitter, hitting more line drives and using the whole field,” Pederson said. “I think I’m gifted that the power will be there. I’m just trying to hit balls on the barrel.”
The swing is a byproduct of a full winter’s work with Johnny Washington, the same coach who’s worked with Pederson in seasons past. Washington spent last year on the coaching staff of the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers. He was recently hired to be the hitting coach for the Double-A San Antonio Missions, a San Diego Padres affiliate.
New Dodgers hitting coach Turner Ward also dropped in on occasion to monitor Pederson’s progress.
Words are one thing, but seeing it in action certainly confirmed that a change was taking place.
— J.P. Hoornstra (@jphoornstra) February 25, 2016
The general reaction from fans has been overwhelmingly positive, praising Joc for being willing to make adjustments, the Dodgers coaches for trying to install something different, and the swing itself for being more balanced and controlled.
That said, I’m … more skeptical. Look, I’m a Joc optimist that thinks his overall 2015 is more indicative of his foundation in the MLB than his horrific finish, so I certainly want to believe. But while everybody lauds what is hypothetically an approach that will allow for more contact and a higher average, my concern is about what might have to be sacrificed to achieve that and if it’s really the issue to begin with.
The obvious focus is on the significant leg kick Joc takes during his load phase, but his hands didn’t have an exaggerated wrap that elongated his swing, and a lot of quality hitters employ a big leg lift as a timing device (Justin Turner on the Dodgers, for one). Rather, since late last year, I’ve said the struggles appear to be largely a problem with pitch selection (getting buried in bad counts swinging at balls) and a swing that seemed to just continue to add drag as the constant tinkering continued.
Certainly some kind of stable adjustment to Joc’s swing was necessary after the mess of phases he went through in 2015, and the off-season was the time to do it because he finally had time to experiment and implement the changes correctly. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned with the complete stripping down of his loading mechanism and swing, as well as the potential effect that might have not only on how Joc’s raw power plays in games, but also on whether the changes will allow him to recognize spin under his hands any better than before. Regardless, though, even if the adjustments made aren’t what I would consider ideal, perhaps just an off-season with a plan and consistency will help Joc more than anything else.
Throughout the season, we’ll likely be revisiting the swing of Joc because he’s key to the Dodgers offense improving in 2016 (and Yasiel Puig, for that matter). There are legit questions as to whether Joc can be an impact bat without the torque, rhythm, and loft from the swing that generally has gotten him this far, but I certainly hope the Dodgers are correct that reduced movement will increase Joc’s contact rate and that his raw power is sufficient as long as he barrels the ball.
Time will tell.