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Joc Pederson is not a center fielder

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Joc Pederson is a good player. He also wouldn’t have solved the Rangers’ center field problem.

“Dancing With The Stars” Season 28 - November 18, 2019 - Arrivals
Joc Pederson at Dancing With The Stars
Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images

While yesterday’s big, exciting news was the Mookie Betts/David Price three-way trade, the Los Angeles Dodgers also had an undercard deal on Tuesday, sending Joc Pederson to the Los Angeles Angels in a deal that is sending Luis Rengifo to the Dodgers, with the teams also reportedly each swapping a prospect, and the Angels getting what has been described as a “major league starting pitcher” (which, via the process of elimination, would appears to be Ross Stripling).

There were complaints about the Angels getting Pederson for “nothing,” though that is, I think, overly dismissive of Rengifo, who put up a 1.2 fWAR and a 1.6 bWAR in 406 plate appearances as a 22 year old last year, and who, as a speedy guy with on base ability who can play a bunch of positions and has options remaining, fits the Dodgers’ desire to maximize their roster and positional flexibility. He’s not a high-ceiling guy, but he could fill the Kike Hernandez role for the Dodgers in the future.

That being said, I also saw complaints, here and on Twitter, that the Rangers should have been in on Pederson, because they need a center fielder. And while I agree that the Rangers need a center fielder (and I think they must get real center fielder before the season starts from outside the organization), I must point out that Joc Pederson would not fill that need.

That is because Joc Pederson is not a center fielder anymore.

Now, Pederson did come up as a center fielder. In 2015 and 2016, his age 23 and 24 seasons, he exclusively played center field and was the Dodgers’ everyday center fielder. And UZR and DRS both thought he was okay at the position...he was an aggregate -2 in DRS for those two seasons, and an average +0.5 in UZR.

In 2017, however, Pederson struggled, and saw his playing time drop. After logging 1223 innings in center field in 2015 and 1032 innings in center field in 2016, he had only 655 innings in center in 2017, along with 21 innings in left field. And his numbers dropped precipitously...DRS had him as a -12 in center field in what was essentially a half season’s worth of playing time out there. UZR had him at -5.5 for the year, and -11.0 UZR/150.

In 2018, for the first time, Pederson saw more time in the corners than in center. Pederson logged only 187 innings — roughly 21 games worth of action — in center field. In that very limited sample size, he had a DRS of -3 and a UZR of -2.9. Both UZR and DRS found him to be above-average in left field, where he had over three times as many innings.

And in 2019? Pederson played a whopping 5 innings in center field last year, over 2 games where he moved there in the late innings. He played three innings there in an early season game after a double-switch, and the final two innings in an August blowout the Dodgers won 8-0.

Who were the Dodgers’ preferred alternatives? A.J. Pollock and Alex Verdugo combined to start 110 games in center field. Cody Bellinger started 21. Kike Hernandez started 16 games out there, Chris Taylor started 11 and played there at some point in another 9 games, and even Kristopher Negron logged 4 starts and a total of 39 innings in center field.

So what happened? Well, even when he was first making the majors, he was viewed as just an average defensive center fielder in scouting reports, and the advanced defensive stats show a guy who was average with the glove his first couple of years in the majors. And looking at his history, it appears he simply got older, filled out, and got slower.

Pederson was never a burner in terms of foot speed, but when he first came into the league, he wasn’t slow. In 2015 he averaged 27.2 feet per second in Statcast’s Sprint Speed metric, which placed him 273rd out of 548 players — right smack in the middle of the pack.

In 2016, Pederson dropped to 26.5 feet per second, which put him 362nd out of 551 players. That’s a not insignificant drop, and in looking at the players with similar speeds, there’s a bunch of second basemen and corner outfielders he’s grouped with. Out of 61 center fielders on the 2016 list, Pederson was 60th in sprint speed — ahead of only Jon Jay.

Pederson was again at 26.5 feet per second in 2017, putting up 370th out of 548 players. There were 71 center fielders on the Statcast Sprint Speed board in 2017, and Pederson finished a very nice 69th among them, ahead of only Jay and Jaff Decker.

After a 26.3 FPS in 2018 (389th out of 549 players), Pederson checked in at 26.2 FPS in 2019, which was 412th out of 568 players. Other players who had a 26.2 FPS speed included catchers Tom Murphy, Jason Castro, James McCann and Andrew Knizner, first basemen Matt Olson and Kevin Cron, and our old friend Ian Kinsler. He was slower than any center fielder was in sprint speed in 2019 — Odubel Herrera was the slowest, at 26.7 FPS, and aside from Herrera only Mason Williams and Ender Inciarte were below 27.2 FPS among center fielders.

Simply put, Joc Pederson isn’t a center fielder anymore. He’s a platoon corner outfielder. Now, he’s a very good platoon corner outfielder — he was a 3.3 bWAR player last year, and except for his awful 2017, has had between 2.3 and 3.3 bWAR in his full major league seasons — but if there’s something the Rangers don’t exactly need right now, its a lefthanded hitting platoon corner outfielder who is a free agent after 2020.

So feel free to bemoan the Rangers’ failure to address the center field situation thusfar. I’m right there with you.

But don’t think that Joc Pederson would have solved that problem.