Analyzing Joc Pederson’s Free Agency

Joc Pederson is selling pearls, but is anyone buying? After earning his second World Series ring, your favorite bedazzled outfielder is on the market and could be coming to a city near you.

This past year, Pederson slashed .238/.310/.732 OPS between his stints with the Cubs and Braves, finishing the season with 18 home runs, 61 RBIs, two stolen bases, and an OPS+ of 93. If we dive a bit deeper we can see that despite modest traditional numbers, Baseball Savant has him ranked in the 80th percentile for average exit velocity and the 90th percentile for max exit velocity. His ability to hit the ball hard is nearing an elite level, and though a subpar batting average is certainly not helping his case, his skill at driving the ball may entice a team in need of some lefty power.

Although many fans consider Pederson a clutch postseason hitter, primarily because of his self-proclaimed “Joctober,” his stats looked grim as this postseason winded down. Pederson went 5-for-22 with one bomb in the NLCS, which is not especially great for a postseason power hitter of his caliber. He was worse in the World Series, going 1-for-15 with no homers. Despite having won a pair of championships, “Joctober” seems to have been a classic case of small sample size. His recent performance, or lack thereof, will weigh heavy on the mind of executives and undoubtedly bring down his value.

Regardless, there are quite a few factors that may boost Pederson’s value among MLB teams. First is the potential for the universal DH being introduced during the MLB CBA negotiations. I’m not going to sugarcoat it; Pederson’s fielding is atrocious. Baseball Savant puts Pederson’s “outfielder jump” and “outs above average” ratings all the way down at the 6th percentile. A universal DH would substantially increase Pederson’s value to National League teams, including his former one, the Braves. The added competition for his services among NL clubs could drive up the price for American League teams as well.

Also helping Pederson’s case is his expected home runs by the ballpark. It is estimated that he would have hit 21 homers if he played in Atlanta all of last season, but in certain ballparks, Pederson would have approached 30 bombs. For example, if he were still a Dodger, he would have 27 blasts, significantly more than his current estimate. This may lead to teams like the Nationals, Phillies, Orioles, Brewers, Reds, and others where Pederson would have done better, to value him higher. For the same reasons, teams like the Tigers and Royals may not value Pederson as highly given he would only have 15 big flies at their stadiums.

Pederson is also known for his energy off the field. He is notorious around the league for being a player and person others want to be around, and that clubhouse presence may drive up his price independently, but Pederson has also said he wants to be a starter. His desire to be an everyday player may limit the number of teams interested in him. Teams will most likely use his physique and injury likelihood against him in negotiations even if he will play a DH role for that team. This rather subjective old-school mindset is being abolished, but it may still linger in the heart of major league scouts and evaluators, especially during negotiations when they are looking for any reason to drive a player’s price down.

While looking at Pederson’s numbers on Baseball-Reference, it is hard not to notice their “Similarity Scores” ranking system. Some of the most similar players hitting-wise to Pederson are Michael Conforto and Kyle Schwarber. These players also happen to be free agents, and they are generating much more buzz than Pederson is despite their similar hitting numbers. Pederson’s agent is likely to mention Schwarber after his career year, but there is just one problem with this: they have the same agent. Although we will never know how exactly the negotiations are handled, it will be interesting to consider how that plays out.

One thing that is key to Pederson’s success is being utilized correctly. It would not be surprising if Pederson’s production declined if he felt more pressure on a non-contending team. He might struggle in the heart of the order and would instead perform better somewhere around the 5-6-7 spots. I feel like Pederson’s strikeout and contact struggles would stick out in the 3 or 4 spots, and he probably shouldn’t be currently relied upon to make contact enough to carry a lineup.

Pederson’s projection for the 2022 season makes it essential to look at the number of games he is projected to play. FanGraphs has Pederson only playing 123 games, 75% of a full 162 game season. This is most likely due to the potential for Pederson being a fourth outfielder due to his abysmal fielding. It is also probably assumed that Pederson will often find himself off the lineup card against lefty starters given his inadequate numbers against them. Being seen as a platoon guy is maybe the biggest risk for Pederson when signing.

As evidenced by his minor league seasons, there is a small chance with some work that he can become a more agile player. Pederson had a 30-30 season (30 home runs and 30 stolen bases) in 2014. He may never get back to this shape, but he is more athletic than the eye leads you to believe and there is still hope he can make some adjustments at this stage in his career.

To put Pederson’s potential contract in context, the most crucial thing to note is that he declined a one-year, $10-million mutual option offered by the Braves after the World Series. He is looking for a longer deal or more money, but I think it is unlikely he will get much more than one year or $10 million per.

Given all of these factors, my final prediction is that Joc Pederson will sign a two-year, $25-million deal with the Reds.

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2 years ago

Duvall is not a free agent.

Dylan Higginsmember
2 years ago
Reply to  ba5000

Good catch, thank you.