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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Joc Pederson

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A corner outfielder may seem like the last thing on the Yankees’ list of needs, but could Joc Pederson’s lefty bat change their minds?

MLB: World Series-Los Angeles Dodgers at Tampa Bay Rays Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

With the Yankees seemingly flush with corner outfielders, former Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson might seem like an odd fit. A left-handed platoon bat capable of drilling 36 home runs, however, may just be the kind of player that you find space on your roster for in a platoon role.

2020 was not a good year for Pederson, as he never quite found his stroke with a .190/.285/.397 slash (88 wRC+) and seven homers in only 138 plate appearances. Much of that, however, can be attributed to .200 BABIP, which is extremely low even for his standards (career .257). His batted ball profile, meanwhile, showed no drop-off from previous seasons; his 93 mph exit velocity was in the top four percent of the league, his barrel percentage was in the 68th percentile, and he had a hard hit percentage of 44.8 percent (79th percentile). As always, Pederson also found his groove in the postseason, where he notched a .991 OPS in 16 games.

That said, there are two points of concern there. Back in the regular season, Pederson’s walk rate dropped from 9.7 percent to 8.0 percent (from the 63rd to 37th percentile), and his whiff rate rose from 24.2 percent to 31 percent (55th to 23rd percentile). Both of those need to be carefully tracked going forward and thus somewhat diminish Pederson’s value. Given both the small sample size and the sheer weirdness that is 2020, I’m willing to bet that he’d hit somewhere closer to his career line going forward.

Of course, this offensive performance comes with a major caveat: Pederson can only hit righties. Over his career, he has posted a .238/.349/.501 triple slash against righties, with 121 homers and a 1.86 K/BB in 2,132 plate appearances; against lefties, that drops to .191/.266/.310 with 9 homers and a 3.08 K/BB in 385 plate appearances. The Dodgers have obviously made it a point to avoid exposing him much to southpaws.

Pederson’s defense, while not bad — he’s accumulated 14 DRS and -3 OAA in 1,710 innings in the corner outfield spots — is not good enough to keep him out of a platoon role, and putting him in center field is, at best, a sacrifice (-16 DRS and -9 OAA in 3149.0 innings). The Dodgers tried him out at first base in 2019, but that was seemingly aborted after only 20 games: in 149 innings, he managed to accumulate -5 DRS, -6 OAA, and 6 errors, good for a -41.3 UZR/150. Pederson did not spend any time at first in 2020.

At first glance, Pederson appears to be an odd fit for the Yankees, who have Aaron Judge, Clint Frazier, Mike Tauchman, and Giancarlo Stanton capable of manning the corner outfield spots. However, he might be able to fit in as “fourth starting outfielder,” much in the same way that DJ LeMahieu was signed as a “fifth infielder” prior to the 2019 season. His batted-ball numbers suggest that he would find Yankee Stadium a joy to hit in: he pulls the ball 41.4 percent of the time, and posts a whopping 1.024 when doing so. Additionally, Statcast data suggests that he would have hit six more home runs over the past two years playing at Yankee Stadium, including 41 in 2019 in 450 at-bats; this would be a 10.98 AB/HR ratio, which is better than Babe Ruth’s career 11.79 AB/HR!

If Pederson signs anywhere close to the two-year, $18 million contract that MLB Trade Rumors projects, even a step down from that sort of production would be a steal, and something worth trying to fit into the Yankees’ lineup. With such a heavy platoon split, it becomes easier for the team to schedule the rotation of off-days, and in days with a left-handed starter on the mound, he gives the Yankees a lefty bat off the bench to use in late innings.