Pederson was the first piece of Atlanta’s outfield makeover and played a pivotal role on and off the field during Atlanta’s championship run.
Acquiring Joc Pederson was the first in a series of July moves made by Alex Anthopoulos that turned around the Atlanta Braves season. Pederson produced some big moments for the Braves but his value went beyond his numbers, as his presence in the clubhouse was apparently crucial down the stretch and throughout the postseason.
Pederson was originally an 11th-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2010 MLB Draft. He made his Major League debut in 2014 and spent the first seven years of his career in Los Angeles where he hit .230/.336/.470 with 130 home runs, putting up 12.9 fWAR in 2,517 regular-season PAs, and adding 170 postseason PAs as well. The Dodgers used him primarily as a platoon outfielder and he came through in some big spots in the postseason. He entered free agency for the first time at the end of the 2021 season and was looking for an opportunity to show that he could be an everyday player, including hitting against lefties, which had been his kryptonite. Pederson agreed to a one-year deal worth a minimum of $7 million with the Chicago Cubs that also contained a mutual option for the 2022 season.
As Chicago’s season went south, they shifted their focus to the future and began unloading their key players. Atlanta’s outfield was in shambles after the season-ending injury to Ronald Acuña Jr. and Anthopoulos pounced quickly as he needed to send a message to his clubhouse that they weren’t planning on throwing in the towel on the season. Anthopoulos completed the deal for Pederson on July 15, sending minor league first base prospect Bryce Ball to Chicago in return.
During his introductory press conference, Pederson told reporters that he had explored signing with Atlanta during the offseason and that things were far enough along that he was looking for a house. Those plans of course fell through, but he ended up with the Braves in the end anyway.
Pederson was the first piece of Atlanta’s outfield makeover. The bar was low so anything he provided on the field was going to be seen as an upgrade. He also brought championship experience to a clubhouse who at that point had endured a lot over a lackluster first half of the season. Pederson had a very weak 2021 before the the trade, putting up 0.1 fWAR in 287 PAs with the Cubs, in part due to xwOBA underperformance (.323 xwOBA, .308 wOBA). There was still the hope that Pederson could be at least an average producer if not his above-average, righty-mashing peak, but his performance to date with the Cubs diminished it a fair bit.
2021 Season Results
Pederson entered the lineup upon his arrival and hit at about a league average rate (101 wRC+). He became the odd man out when Eddie Rosario returned from the Injured List but gave the Braves a quality bat off the bench as Brian Snitker continued to mix and match lineups.
He appeared in 64 games during the regular season for Atlanta hitting .249/.325/.428 with eight doubles and seven home runs. He put up 0.4 fWAR in 194 PAs, dragged down by a bit by his defense, and more by xwOBA underperformance (.347 xwOBA but a .326 wOBA as a Brave in the regular season).
Pederson made his presence felt during the postseason as he came up with two pinch-hit home runs in his first three at-bats, including a huge three-run blast in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Brewers. He returned to the lineup as a replacement for Jorge Soler, who tested positive for COVID-19 prior to Game 4 of the NLDS. Pederson went 5-for-24 with a homer in the NLCS win over his former club.
What went right? / What went wrong?
While Pederson gave the Braves a lift with his play on the field, he also played a part behind the scenes as well. His arrival injected some life into the clubhouse and his antics kept the team loose as they headed into the postseason. Pederson had a brashness that had been missing, as outlined by ESPN’s Jeff Passan in an article following the World Series win.
On the field, he had a second straight weak season, even if you account for his xwOBA underperformance, as he failed to hit well enough to justify his defense. Playing more against lefties didn’t really help his cause much, but he also got away from pulling the ball in the air, which is his main path to success. Pederson also had a weak postseason, with a .297 xwOBA and .286 wOBA (75 wRC+), so he’ll need to figure some way to rebound going forward if he wants to garner a starting role in the future.
Road to the Title
In the postseason, Pederson combined for some positive WPA (0.06 to 0.09 depending on where you look), but a negative cWPA, as he had a pretty bad World Series. Still, he played hero in the NLDS, as his three-run homer was the only scoring event of the Braves’ Game 3 win.
Pederson also chipped in here and there during the regular season, like in this walkoff hit on September 9. Fittingly, this was the Stephen Vogt two-homer game, and the Vogt-Pederson duo has been credited with reviving the clubhouse, including Vogt’s antics as “The Ref” ahead of this specific game.
Outlook for 2022
As expected, Pederson declined his mutual option on November 5 and became a free agent. What happens with the rest of the Braves’ outfield this offseason will likely determine whether there is a path for his return to Atlanta. Pederson will turn 30 in April and will likely be looking for another opportunity to show that he can be an everyday player, unless he wants to accept a role as a platoon bat. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but his championship pedigree should prove valuable to a lot of teams on the open market. Even so, he’s got a lot of work to do to get back into a surefire starting role, as he’s likely no longer projected to be an average regular given his 2020-2021 — a .331 xwOBA against right-handers over his last 408 PAs just isn’t that enticing, considering that he doesn’t provide defensive value.