As the St. Louis Cardinals search for more offense this winter, one player they have to consider going after is Joc Pederson.
Hidden in the deep Los Angeles Dodgers lineup, there is a bat that will be a free agent in the winter. Joc Pederson has not had a good 2020; he’s batting 8th for the Dodgers most nights this postseason, but he could be the perfect bat to go after for the St. Louis Cardinals.
It’s no secret, the Cardinals don’t have a powerful offense. In 2020, they ranked last in the MLB in ISO and 27th in slugging percentage. Sure the small sample size and the overloaded schedule didn’t help, but there’s no way to argue the Cardinals would’ve even been a top-15 team in the MLB in those power stats if there was a normal season.
As they look at ways to improve their offense, specifically their power, the Cardinals will set their eyes on the outfield. The defensive potential is there with Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader, but the results at the plate in 2020 weren’t there. The outfield is an easy place to upgrade bats.
Looking at the upcoming free agents for this winter, a clear target could be George Springer, but he’ll be 31 by the beginning of the 2021 season. He also was a big part of the Astros team that got caught cheating, bringing his ability to amicably integrate into a new clubhouse into question.
If either of those things doesn’t put Springer out of the picture, he’ll also be the most expensive outfielder available this winter. That doesn’t sound like waters the Cardinals will wade into.
Just below the top tier of George Springer is Joc Pederson though.
Pederson, 28, is hitting free agency for the first time in his career and is a powerful lefty bat. In 2020, he was pretty bad though, but all that should do is lower his price, Pederson is not the player he is showing right now.
This year, Pederson batted just .190 with an 88 wRC+ and seven homers. While that looks a lot like a Tyler O’Neill stat line, the difference is Pederson ranked in the 96th percentile in average exit velocity, 79th percentile in hard hit percentage, and 68th percentile in barrel percentage.
He had an anemic .200 BABIP, suggesting he was pretty unlucky this year also hurt by his near-50% groundball rate.
However, I want to redirect your attention back to the beginning of his career compared to 2018 and 2019.
For his first couple of years in the league, Pederson was known as a high swing and miss guy. The stats backed it up with his 29.1% strikeout rate in 2015 and 27.3% rate in 2016. During those years, he did rank in the top 10% in barrel percentage though. However, during an injury-shortened 2017, things started to change.
Pederson dropped his strikeout rate to 21.1 percent in 2017 and it stayed right around there for his full seasons in 2018 and 2019. In those last two years, Pederson had near-career-best years with a 126 and 127 wRC+ at the plate mashing a combined 61 homers in those two seasons. His walk rate fell from the low-mid teens early in his career to a steady 9%, but I’d rather take fewer strikeouts and walks than more of both.
One of the consistent knocks on Pederson are his lefty/righty splits, which is fair. His career OPS against righties is .850 and it falls to .576 against lefties. Pederson wouldn’t fix the lineup alone, but getting his production, even if it’s just against righties, would be a huge boost to the lineup.
The baseline to this whole argument is that Pederson is has a ton of power. In three of the past five years, he’s hit at least 25 bombs and has had an OPS at or above .850. The down 2020 should not be anything to worry about, and if you look at the 2020 Cardinals, Pederson’s 2018-2019 ISO of .281 would’ve led the offense by a wide margin.
With Pederson, you get a guy who can play the corner outfield spots marginally well but would also be a great DH candidate. At just 28, you don’t have to worry about a steep decline if you give him five years and he won’t command top dollar.
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Again, Pederson won’t fix the whole offense, but as a guy who would come in and immediately be among team leaders in power, he’s the perfect candidate for the Cardinals.