During the 2020 MLB season, the Braves success was one of the few positive memories many of us have from last year. Though their season ended in disappointing fashion, there is no doubt the Braves truly took the next step to solidify themselves as one of the best teams in baseball for the foreseeable future due their immensely talented young core.
The main source of their success was an offense that arguably was the best in baseball. However, a few big names supporting that success, Marcell Ozuna and Adam Duvall, are now free agents. Along with Nick Markakis also entering free agency, the Braves only have Ronald Acuna Jr., Cristian Pache, and Ender Inciarte has viable options for their outfield at the moment. While the Braves certainly have added significant talent to their starting rotation in the forms of Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton, it seems a move of equal significance is still needed to ensure the Atlanta offense remains among the best in the majors.
Though general manager Alex Anthopolous is never one to make moves in response to trades or signings made by other teams, the San Diego Padres and New York Mets have made it clear they want to join the ranks atop the National League with the Dodgers and Braves. As a result, and with plenty of viable options still available via free agency, it seems logical that the Braves will make a significant addition to their offense in the near future.
That move could be reuniting with one of Ozuna or Duvall, or perhaps both if the money is right. Other premier names, such as George Springer and Michael Brantley, are sensible targets. However, another player who could make sense for Atlanta has been a logical target for the Braves for years. And while Joc Pederson may not be on the overall level of some of the names mentioned above, he would check quite a few boxes in adding both depth and punch to the Atlanta lineup.
Let’s see why finally bringing Pederson to Atlanta could make sense:
Who is He?
Joc Pederson is a former top prospect for the Dodgers who has spent his entire career in Los Angeles. In the first half of his rookie year, Pederson looked the part of a potential phenom. However, despite earning an All-Star nod and capturing the attention of America during the 2014 MLB Home Run Derby, Pederson would experience a significant slump in the second half of that season.
Over the next six years, Pederson would fall short of the lofty status he reached as a prospect due to an inability to hit southpaws. However, he has emerged as one of the more potent strong-side-of-a-platoon power corner outfielders in baseball. Though it is well-known that he cannot hit lefties, and neither his speed nor ability to play centerfield truly developed, Pederson has certainly remained a valuable bat due to career .263 ISO and .849 OPS measures against right handed pitching.
- The main reasons as to why the Braves should or should not sign Pederson can likely be found in his levels of production in 2019 and 2020. In 2019, among batters with at least 400 plate appearances against RHP, Pederson was fourth in the majors with a .319 ISO measure. He also produced a .920 OPS, .377 wOBA, and 137 wRC+. He finished with 36 homeruns, clearly emerging as one of the best hitters against RHP in the majors.
Unfortunately, Pederson took a significant step back in 2020. Though his production likely should be taken with a grain of salt due to a shortened season, his production significantly declined. His ISO dropped to a .223 mark, while his BABIP was .178 compared to a .258 career measure. He also produced his lowest career walk rate and his highest strikeout rate since 2016.
While his production over a full season in 2019 may be a bit more valid than his production in 2020, these two individual seasons present the streaky, Jekyll and Hyde nature of a hitter with Pederson’s profile. However, while potentially making him less attractive than others, the fact that he is coming off a down year in 2020 could make him a great buy-low option and bargain for the Braves.
Why Should the Braves Sign Him?
A major factor that made the Braves so good in 2020 was that they were one of, if not the, best offenses against RHP in the majors in 2020. As mentioned above, both Duvall and Ozuna were big reasons for that success. However, now without either of those players in the fold, the Braves must have other options that can help them maintain their success against RHP. There are few options available who fit that need better than Pederson.
Since 2014, Pederson has hit 121 homeruns and produced an .849 OPS against righties. Among players with 1500 or more at bats against RHP since 2014, Pederson is one of only 15 players to produce 121 or more homeruns and an OPS of .849 or higher in the majors. For reference, perhaps the most ideal target available for the Braves outfield, George Springer, has hit 122 home runs and generated an OPS of .834 against RHP over that same time frame. Springer has hit one more home run than Pederson despite nearly 450 more plate appearances.
Despite his struggles in 2020, Pederson actually registered the best exit velocity numbers of his career this past year, finishing in the 96th percentile in the majors according to Baseball Savant. In fact, Pederson has consistently finished above the 85th percentile in exit velocity during his career, proving that he can add significant value when he makes contact. Another added bonus in terms of his ability to add value is the fact that Pederson has produced nine home runs, 20 RBIS, and a .272/.349/.503 triple-slash line over 170 postseason plate appearances in his career. Not only has he consistently produced in the playoffs, he has also produced plenty of big hits in crucial postseason moments for the Dodgers over the past half decade.
Why Should the Braves Not Sign Him?
Hitting right-handed pitchers hard is really the one thing that Pederson does well. He simply is not an option to utilize against LHP. Though he does not strikeout at an absurd rate and will draw his share of walks, he has never hit for a high average nor is he a threat on the base paths. He also is a subpar fielder who likely is limited to leftfield and ideally should be the strong side of a platoon at DH.
For these reasons above, while signing Pederson would certainly fill a huge need in terms of adding another significant threat to the lineup against RHP, his limitations elsewhere would mean the Braves would need to make another signing to platoon with him. Furthermore, if there is not a universal DH, the logic in signing Pederson likely lowers due his lack of versatility in the field.
Final Verdict and Contract Expectation
As mentioned above, Springer, Ozuna, Brantley, and others should be of higher priority for the Braves than Pederson due to being more valuable talents. However, each of those options will likely require a significantly bigger financial commitment from the Braves. Considering the fact that, despite his 2020 season, Pederson has offered similar production against RHP over his career as the names listed above, he could become quite attractive to Atlanta.
That appeal likely improves if the Braves could find a logical platoon partner to pair with Pederson. Fortunately, one of the most sensible options available to do that is Adam Duvall. An interesting note on Pederson is that, according to Baseball Reference’s similarity scores, his two closest comparisons in MLB history are Adam Duvall and Kyle Schwarber. The fact that Schwarber just singed a one-year, $10M dollar deal with the Washington Nationals is a highly logical expectation for what Pederson could eventually sign for.
If the Braves could land the combination of Pederson and Duvall for a total of $15M-$18M for 2021 with an option for one or both players into 2022, that could be a sensible avenue to gain the production of a player such as Ozuna or Springer without anywhere near the financial or long-term commitment. Of course, the streaky up and down nature of Pederson and Duvall offers much more risk. However, if the Braves were to use Pederson strictly against RHP and Duvall strictly against LHP and utilize Duvall’s excellent defense late in games, a significant portion of that risk could be mitigated. Furthermore, in certain situations, Pederson offers a potent left-handed bat that could be used as a situational advantage late in games that the Braves have not had at their disposal in a while.
Ideally, a reunion with Ozuna or a trade for a significantly better all-around player remains ideal for Atlanta. If the Braves were to make that level of acquisition, Pederson could still make sense on a one year deal and form a creative platoon with Austin Riley. Overall, Pederson may be viewed as more of a fallback plan when considering the options the Braves still have on the table. However, regardless of what direction the Braves choose to go, signing Pederson seems highly logical for Atlanta. And, if utilized correctly under the tutelage of Kevin Seitzer, there is a very good chance Pederson could continue the trend of one year wonders providing significant offensive value to the Braves lineup.