2023 Stats: 121 games, 425 PA, .235/.348/.416, 111 wRC+, 15 HR, 51 RBI 0.6 fWAR
Notable: 14 of his 15 home runs came against right-handed pitching...
Last year, the San Francisco Giants extended Joc Pederson the $19.65 million qualifying offer which definitely caused some head-scratching across the nation. It’s clear the Giants used their option to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse because they needed him more than he needed them. He provided power the team organization sorely lacked.
Yes, at the end of the day, the team did wind up “overpaying” for a no-glove platoon bat, and that’s okay. That’s kind of the Giants’ thing. They might not enjoy it, but it’s the best use of their circumstances. They had the money and the need. As Marc Delucchi pointed out in a writeup about Gabe Kapler’s firing:
From 2020-2022, Pederson posted a .784 OPS (113 OPS+). In his age-31 season this year, Pederson has a .772 OPS (112 OPS+). If Pederson has performed below expectations, those expectations were unfairly high.
Let’s subtract his salary for the moment, because it’s only a distraction. The team obviously hoped he’d perform closer to his 2022 values (.274/.353/.521, 146 wRC+ and .247 ISO), but like so many things with the 2023 roster, the outcomes did not match the projections. Those 30 points of wRC+ are meaningful!
The team certainly went into the season with the mindset of increasing his usefulness in the field, too, even trying him out at first base. Ultimately, he played just 208 innings in the field (204 in the OF, 4 at 1B) versus 779 in 2022. That didn’t hurt the Giants, of course, but their DH not super-duper DHing did. Of course, it’s a credit to Joc that he didn’t let the one-year payday push him to get out of what he does well. That version might’ve been a bad hitter! Still, he wasn’t what the Giants wanted him to be.
While he set a new career-high in weighted on base average (.368), that merely surpassed last season’s high of .367 and that’s largely because of a hefty walk rate (13.4%). His numbers versus right-handed pitching scaled to the rest of the National League were similarly fine. His 115 wRC+ against just RHP was 36th in the National League, tied with Trea Turner and Atlanta’s Michael Harris. His .194 ISO was about on par with Bryce Harper and Christian Yelich.
This is the ecstasy and the agony of the Giants’ 2023: Joc was the right guy for the job (be the right-handed side of their designated hitter platoon) but he didn’t perform any better than his career averages and so the team wasn’t better than the sum of its parts. Now let’s add back in his salary, because it serves my point that Joc Pederson alone represents the story of the 2023 Giants.
In real money (forget AAV), the Giants paid Joc, Conforto, Manaea, Stripling, Taylor Rogers, Luke Jackson, and Mitch Haniger a combined $82.65 million for 2.6 fWAR, about 3.7 times above what the “market rate” should be for a win. Except for Haniger and Stripling, really, there were flashes of their skill set and why they were chosen for the roster. The team correctly identified useful players. They thought by combining all these skills they would be able to optimize usage and scheme their way to a lot of wins.
It didn’t happen. Joc was a useful player but not a significant contributor. The tension that lasted all season long has extended into the offseason: are the Giants always going to need to run a Rube Goldberg machine to win? Is depth a means to an end?
I’m laying all this out even though I presume most of us will remember Joc Pederson’s 2023 for the off-field stuff. Last season had The Slap, but also that incredible office hour with Professor Barry Bonds that led to his 3-home run game. This season, there was just Pusoy. Andrew Baggarly’s September 26th story for The Athletic which painted a picture of a fractured clubhouse at the end of two disappointing seasons seemed to lay a lot of the blame for the team’s disinterest in competing on the field at the feet of Joc Pederson.
No need to moralize with any of this. The team’s total performance made it easier to look at individual efforts and spotlight flaws where journalists, fans, and data could find them. It’s almost like the team assembled a group of scapegoats in the event their usage strategies didn’t generate an acceptable number of wins. Credit to Joc Pederson for staying loose all season long, too. Doesn’t seem like anything bothers him. Consistency counts in a strong clubhouse. He wasn’t signed to lead or set any examples, anyway. He was signed to mash.
It was a marriage of convenience that ultimately netted out at basically okay, fine, whatever. If the Giants had signed Aaron Judge or Carlos Correa, his presence on the roster would’ve made just as much sense but his contributions would’ve been good to have rather than vital. Pederson’s a great player to have in the mix if you’re trying to build a lineup around a star or two with spectacular platoons. If only the Giants had signed or developed a star or two.
But this is a review of Joc Pederson, and I think if he can get on a winner that’s playoff bound and where he’s not being counted on to carry the offense, he’ll be a solid contributor whose fantasy football transactions and pre- and post-game clubhouse behavior won’t tank a season. He is a galoot entering his age-32 season, though, so there might not be too many Joctobers left in his future.