So far during the young 2017 season, one of the more common lineup themes of the Dodgers has been to employ utility man Enrique Hernandez in center field against left-handed pitching, while stashing away Joc Pederson on the pine for possible appearances later in games against righty pitching, or for his skills as a defensive replacement.
It’s far too early in the year to tell if this will be a beneficial trend, but in the greater scope of things, Pederson won’t have many opportunities to improve his overall production against southpaw pitching if he isn’t afforded the chances.
Earlier in spring training, skipper Dave Roberts insisted that Pederson would collect more reps against southpaw pitching in 2017, but just how many ABs the Dodgers’ manager has in mind remains to be seen.
“Joc will see more left-handed pitching this year. He made only nine starts against lefties last year,” Roberts explained. “He’ll see surely more than that this year.”
However, after he opted for the services of Hernandez in center against Clayton Richard and the Padres in the second game of the season, Roberts said that Pederson is more likely to start against a left-hander with higher velocity than one who relies on off-speed stuff and deception. Against the Rockies and Tyler Anderson on Sunday, Roberts chose to play Hernandez in center again, even know the youngster Anderson has a fairly hard four-seamer.
Over the course of his career, Pederson’s splits are terribly lopsided. Against righties, he has a total of 900 plate appearances, with a slash line of .234/.366/.473 and 45 home runs, compared to .180/.274/.323 with seven home runs over 217 PAs against left-handed pitching. Last season, Pederson had a .469 OPS against all left-handed pitchers and a .918 OPS against righties. While these numbers do indeed support the idea of an outright platoon, the decision to sit Joc against lefties still doesn’t give him the chance to experiment or make adjustments against lefties moving forward.
And as far as defense goes, Hernandez’s skills don’t come anywhere near those of Pederson, and could be considered a liability at times. Hernandez probably sits right around average or a little below as far as range, glove work and arm strength go — quite a few ticks away from Pederson’s outstanding marks in all those categories.
What’s more, if his presence wasn’t required to provide secondary cover at shortstop, there probably would be much of a need to carry Hernandez at all. He’s 1-for-6 so far this year, and last season hit .189/.308/.361 against southpaws while slashing .190/.283/.324 overall.
If the Dodgers could find a way to restructure the 25-man roster to carry Trayce Thompson, the 24-year-old Los Angeles native would surely provide a better platoon option defensively, and could be a more productive power option against southpaw pitching, as made evident by his 10 home runs and seven doubles in 172 ABs last season. Hypothetically, even with Pederson getting occasional looks against southpaws down the road, Thompson still has the ability to provide quality cover in all three outfield spots.
In the meantime, after salvaging one game against the Rockies in the weekend series, the Dodgers travel to Wrigley on Monday, where the club will face lefty Jon Lester in the opener, and ultimately take their hacks against former Dodger southpaw Brett Anderson in the series finale on Thursday. If Roberts stays true to his word, Pederson may at least get the starting nod against Lester in the first game, who still throws a relatively hard fastball.
Monday’s first pitch is slated for 5:05 p.m. Los Angeles time.