Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Joc Pederson signs one-year deal with the Cubs

Photo Credit: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle

On Friday, Jan. 29, the Chicago Cubs and outfielder Joc Pederson agreed to a one-year, $7M contract. Pederson, a former member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is entering his eighth season in the MLB at age 29. While the exact specifics of the deal are still not clear, it’s been reported that the deal includes a mutual option for the 2022 season. This strongly implies that a portion of his $7M guaranteed will be relegated to a buyout after the 2021 season.

After being crippled with payroll issues, the team lost a bounty of salary from trading team ace Yu Darvish, non-tendering powerhouse Kyle Schwarber, and losing starters José Quintana, Jon Lester, and Tyler Chatwood to the free-agent market. Because of this, Pederson received the most guaranteed money the team has given to a player since Craig Kimbrel in 2019. The team has also spent the most guaranteed money since the 2019 offseason before training camp and spring training ensues.

Pederson has been an offensive force for the Dodgers, hitting for a .241/.325/.513 slash line, 122 wRC+, and .350 wOBA (.340 xwOBA) in 1,095 plate appearances since 2018. His best season in that timespan was his 2019, however, when he posted a .249/.339/.538 slash line, 127 wRC+, .362 wOBA (.349 xwOBA), and 3.2 rWAR in 149 games.

Pederson’s most eye-popping talent is undeniably his ability to make hard contact. In 2019, his average exit velocity of 91.2 mph ranked 29th out of 223 hitters with at least 250 BBE. His Hard Hit%, which measures the percentage of a player’s BBE that were over 95 mph, was 42.8, ranking 58th in the same sample of players. His average launch angle of 15.6 degrees was also impressive, ranking 57th.

It should go without saying that Pederson will replace Schwarber, who agreed to a one-year, $10M contract with the Washington Nationals. Schwarber shares a similar playstyle to Pederson. Both have a knack for hard contact and power, have adequate plate discipline, and average a line drive launch angle. However, that’s not to say that Pederson doesn’t differ from Schwarber in ways that can be more beneficial to the Cubs at a lower guaranteed salary.

One notable change of their talents in the lineup card will be how Pederson handles the shift, one of Schwarber’s primary weaknesses. In Schwarber’s breakout 2019 season, he was shifted 69.3% of the time, underperforming his .380 xwOBA in those situations by a spellbinding 27 points. Pederson was shifted at about the same clip (66.6%), however, he was almost the polar opposite of Schwarber. He outperformed his .357 xwOBA by 25 points. He was also able to do this in an albeit smaller sample size in 2018, outperforming his xwOBA by 39 points.

Another potential plus with putting Pederson in LF would be his defensive upside. Schwarber, while never a defensive liability, didn’t shine overall with his glove. He mostly fell into average defensive stints throughout each season. Pederson, in contrast to Schwarber’s consistent output, is a man of polarizing stints, only emphasized further by his sample sizes. He had -5 DRS at first base in under 150 innings, -1 DRS during 2018, and an abysmal -13 DRS in an outlier 2017 season. However, in his 2019 season, he managed to put up an impressive 12 DRS campaign in the outfield, ranking 11th out of 71 outfielders with at least 750 innings. He didn’t get paid primarily for his defensive upside, but it’s an intriguing albeit uncertain caveat for the 2021 season.

Like Schwarber, Pederson is noticeably stronger against right-handed pitchers than left. In 2019, he hit for a .252/.349/.571 slash line, 137 wRC+, and .377 wOBA (.363 xwOBA) in 464 PA against righties. Because of this and weak performances against left-handed pitching, it stands to reason that he won’t be the only player getting left field reps.

One of the prominent current candidates to platoon with Pederson would be Phillip Ervin, whom the Cubs claimed off of waivers from the Seattle Mariners earlier this offseason. Ervin presents almost the polar opposite splits to Pederson. In 2019, he hit for a .349/.411/.628 slash line, 164 wRC+, and .428 wOBA (.317 xwOBA) in 95 PA against southpaws. While that wOBA-xwOBA is scary, Ervin has been able to outperform his xwOBA by 49 points in 247 career PA against lefties.

Ervin isn’t the Cubs’s only option, however. While some of this is conjecture due to their incomplete roster, they could find a possibility to give Kris Bryant opportunities in the outfield. Bryant has been the Cubs’s notorious lefty assassin. In 2019, he hit for a .295/.426/.629 slash line, 169 wRC+, and .432 wOBA (.403 xwOBA) against them in 129 PA. Kevin Pillar, a current free agent, is another safe option for adequate production against lefties. In 2019, he hit for a .278/.305/.519 slash line, 104 wRC+, and .328 wOBA (.331 xwOBA) against lefties in 174 PA. These numbers aren’t earth-shattering, but they could definitely find a nice home in that platoon.

For the more inquisitive readers, Pederson’s expected home runs on Baseball Savant may have created some anxiety about the stability of his production. In 2019, he hit 36 home runs, only 28 of which would’ve been out at Wrigley Field. This makes sense, as wall heights at Wrigley are noticeably higher than Dodger Stadium.

This quandary ate at me for a while. After all, it shocked me that the Cubs would look at him as a good fit with this looming over his impressive season. Looking into this more led me back to his average launch angle which, as aforementioned, fared quite well for Pederson in 2019. However, his average launch angle on home runs of 27.3 degrees ranked as the 73rd lowest out of 225 hitters with at least 250 BBE. Curious, I mapped the correlation between the two variables, with the average launch angle as the dependent variable. The correlation is shown below.

Minimum of 250 BBE in 2019.

There appears to be a noticeable correlation between the two, with a Pearson correlation coefficient of 0.411. Unsurprisingly, Pederson fares well below the trend line (blue line) and even the 95% confidence interval (shaded area). Assuming closer regression to the mean, it’s plauisble to conclude that his home runs would be more likely to clear the fence and, thus, his xHR at Wrigley Field would’ve been higher than his 28.

Pederson breathes some new life into previously downtrodden and frustratingly strict offseasons for the Cubs. They’ve been infamous for their small-scale signings during the last two years, so the runner’s high reactions from Cubs fans make sense. With Pederson, they’re getting the safest and most valuable player that they’ve acquired since Kimbrel over a year-and-a-half ago. And, judging by their $45M available before the luxury tax penalty, they’re probably not done just yet.

Steven Pappas

Hello! My name is Steven Pappas, and I'm a high school junior. I love to analyze and write about baseball data as a huge Chicago Cubs fan and lifelong follower of the sport. I use large databases such as Baseball Savant, basic coding knowledge in RStudio, and my inquisitive mindset to always scour the infinite data available. I really enjoy watching and following basketball and am a Chicago Bulls fan, actively going to their games at the United Center. I love the study of filmmaking, and it's a passion that I've begun to explore as a career opportunity. My favorite works come from the minds of Stanley Kubrick, Yorgos Lanthimos, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the Coen brothers, and Wes Anderson. As a deft and passionate writer, I use my proficiency to create works from baseball data, for films, and my ideas in the form of short stories and little nuggets. I'm also a libertarian socialist in training and an active Greek Orthodox Christian.