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What’s up, Joc? (or: what to do about prospect love)

Joc Pederson might come to the White Sox, and prospects will be traded — like it or not

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Three
Deadly duo: Joc Pederson is a power hitter who has youth and playoff experience.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Well, the White Sox and Dodgers are rumored to be trade partners, again.

When rumors that L.A. was interested in Jose Abreu, Joc Pederson’s name was thrown about by fans as a centerpiece of a possible haul. But this time around, the Sox are rumored to be unloading prospects, not a veteran, for Pederson, so let’s take a look at what Joc will bring the White Sox.

This revelation already has circled around social media, but of the White Sox batters in 2018 (min. 200 plate appearances), Pederson would have had the best K-rate, at 19.2%. In fact, since his first full season in 2015, Pederson’s K-rate has fallen every year — but so has his BB-rate.

What was odd about Pederson’s 2018 season was that his outside-the-zone swing rate actually took a big jump, to a new career high of 32.1%. However, Pederson actually swung less inside the zone. Even more strange, his overall contact percentage also took a little (~1%) dip.

In other words, really, the K-rate should have been higher. Pederson was making less contact and swinging at worse pitches. It makes sense that his BB-rate would fall, but that K-rate is suspicious, at the very least. However, what is not concerning is Pederson’s return to form when he connects with a pitch.

The 2017 season saw a dip below a .200 ISO for the first time for Pederson, but he blew away any power outage concerns in 2018, rebounding with a .273 ISO. That was good for ninth in all of baseball, just a smidge ahead of NL MVP Christian Yelich (min. 400 PA).

Now let’s not get anything twisted, the lefty Pederson will only bat against righties. Against left-handed pitchers over his entire career, Pederson’s wRC+ is a measly 61. Since there are some worries that Joc could be another Adam Dunn, it’s important to note that a 61 wRC+ is about the same production Dunn had in his infamous 2011 season.

Pederson’s calling card will always be eating righties for lunch, and he’s dined well, especially last season. In 2018, Pederson had a 139 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers, tied for 27th in all of baseball. Guess who he is tied with? Manny Machado. But really, as you will see in the heat maps below, there is no surprise Pederson only hit one home run against a left-handed pitcher last season.

Pederson’s ISO/P against lefties in 2018 on the left, ISO/P against righties in 2018 on the right.

Now, that is just 2018, but if the Sox want to be a competitive team, somebody will need to replace Pederson when a lefty is on the mound. Much like fans’ concerns with Moncada hitting from the right side of the plate, Pederson clearly has a contact problem against left-handers. So really, what is Pederson to the White Sox?

Well, he is more productive than every other outfielder they have. He is better than Daniel Palka, Adam Engel, Avisail Garcia, and Nicky Delmonico. Whether they are related to Manny Machado in some way like Jon Jay and Yonder Alonso, or they are real acquisitions like Alex Colome, Kelvin Herrera, and Ivan Nova, it is clear the White Sox are trying to be better in the immediate future and start to build a team that is already competitive when the prospects start to arrive. Herrera, Colome, and most likely Alonso are going to be with the Sox for multiple seasons. If this trade with the Dodgers does come to fruition, Pederson is also controllable for multiple seasons.

There are only five prospects I would not trade: Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert, and Nick Madrigal. Everybody else should seemingly be involved in trade discussions in the future. Of course, everybody has a favorite “sleeper” prospect who should never be traded; for me, that’s Tyler Johnson and Lincoln Henzman. But really, you’ve got to protect the key core, and leave everyone else available to improve the team now.

For example, one of the Pederson rumors involved Bryce Bush, and there was some pushback from some fans on trading Bush. Now, he was a surprise signing after being drafted, and did well in his first stint in professional baseball, especially at the plate:

But really, Bush is an untouchable?

First off, his signing was a surprise because he was a high-schooler drafted in the 33rd round. If he was really highly sought after by teams, he would have been taken in the first few rounds, where the money is much better.

Second, Bush did have a great first 38 games. He had a 129 wRC+ in those 38 games, with an 11.3% BB-rate and just a 15.6% K-rate in Arizona and Great Falls. But it was 38 games, no real sample size to prove he has a future — and it was rookie ball.

Third, Pederson is coming off a year with 2.7 fWAR, and has accrued 10.1 fWAR with just about four years worth of games. He has already proven to be a good major league player. Meanwhile, Bush is years away. Need I remind Sox fans of the multiple instances of presumed greatness that failed?

Trayce Thompson, after 44 games with the White Sox, looked like a starting center fielder for years to come; well, he wasn’t. We all know how well Gordon Beckham did after his first season. To use more prospect-related examples, remember when fans were upset Jake Peter was traded? To round out that Thompson trade, have Frankie Montas or Micah Johnson really done anything of substantial worth since?

At some point, the Sox will trade prospects again. One of your favorites, like Luis Gonzalez or Laz Rivera, will be traded. To successfully rebuild is to turn prospects into major leaguers, and that means via trade as well. I know the Fernando Tatis Jr. (or who? as katiesphil refers to him), troubles all of you. But there are 25 spots on a roster, where 12 or 13 of them will be either position players or pitchers. There are just simply not enough spots for all of these favorite “sleeper” prospects.

What the rebuild has done is make trades easier for the White Sox. These days, they don’t have to trade for the Todd Fraziers or the Brett Lawries of the world, with the amount of talent that’s in the system. However, more importantly: The day the prospect trades do start is the time winning baseball has returned to the South Side, and that is a place where farm systems are finally an afterthought.

Everybody will be much more satisfied with that.