The Cincinnati Reds offseason has been full of excitement in an offseason where most of baseball has been incredibly slow-paced and boring. The Reds made a huge trade with the Dodgers to acquire Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, and Kyle Farmer. The team also acquired starting pitcher Tanner Roark from the Nationals. And just this weekend they finally grabbed Sonny Gray from the Yankees, and signed him to an extension. Without the Reds, Major League Baseball may not even have had a stove that worked, much less a hot one. And the team says that they aren’t done yet, either. They are still looking at center field options. But Joc Pederson seems to be available, and he’s played center in the majors before.
Internally, the Reds have stated they believe they have options. There’s been talk that Yasiel Puig or Scott Schebler could be played in center. Top prospect Nick Senzel could be an option and has been in Arizona all offseason working on learning the position. Phillip Ervin has also been mentioned as a potential option. That hasn’t stopped the team from saying they are still looking, though. And that probably tells you how comfortable that they are with any of those options in center field on a daily basis.
That brings us back to Joc Pederson, who is reportedly being shopped around by the Dodgers, according to Michael Duarte of NBC Los Angeles.
Source: #Dodgers signing of FA outfielder A.J. Pollock is contingent on ultimately trading outfielder Joc Pederson. Trade could come either before or after signing of Pollock. Pederson is currently being shopped to multiple teams.
— Michael J. Duarte (@michaeljduarte) January 23, 2019
He doesn’t mention the teams that have been contacted, but would it surprise anyone if the Reds were one of them. It seems that over the last two years the Dodgers and Reds have been involved in about 10 trades with each other.
In 2018, Joc Pederson saw a lot more time in left field than in center field. But prior to that, almost all of his time in the field came in center for the Dodgers. In his four year career there’s been some wild swings in just how he’s performed on defense according to the various metrics. Let’s take a quick look at how he’s rated out defensively in UZR/150 at Fangraphs, Statcasts Outs Above Average, and Baseball Reference’s defensive WAR component:
The reason that it’s listed as N/A in 2018 for UZR/150 was because most of his time came in left, and not in center – and that’s more of the question we’re trying to answer. And because of how it’s calculated, he’s being compared to other left fielders and not other center fielders. The Statcast Outs Above Average N/A is because it didn’t exist in 2015.
In 2017 the UZR/150 and Statcast numbers have him among the worst fielders in baseball. But just a year prior to that, he was slightly above-average. In 2018 Statcast ranked him again near the bottom on defense despite moving from center to left. In theory, that shouldn’t have played out that way. But it did.
This brings up the question of, what the heck happened? The first thing that comes to mind is that perhaps Joc Pederson lost some speed between 2015/16 to 2017/18. To get an idea on that we can look at some different Statcast data. They have two different speed metrics. First is sprint speed. In that we do see that in 2015 he was ever so slightly above-average in the category at 27.2 feet per second. That dropped to 26.5 in 2016 and 2017, then to 26.3 in 2018.
In the other Statcast speed category, 90-foot running splits, things look similar. During 2018 he was slightly worse than middle-of-the-pack at 4.07 seconds. In 2017 he was at 4.05 seconds. This data is not available prior to the 2017 season. But both metrics seems to suggest that when it comes to speed, Joc Pederson simply isn’t more than an average runner – if that.
That’s quite a bit slower than some of the other options available to the Cincinnati Reds. Phillip Ervin is the fastest player on the team in the 90-foot running splits at 3.87 seconds. Jose Peraza is just behind him at 3.88. Scott Schebler is close behind at 3.91 seconds. Yasiel Puig would be next at 3.95. To give a little more perspective, Billy Hamilton was at 3.75 seconds, while Tucker Barnhart was at the bottom among the Reds at 4.30 seconds.
Speed isn’t everything when it comes to center field defense. There’s certainly a bare minimum that is needed for the position, but pure speed isn’t what makes or breaks a player at the position. Being able to read the ball off of the bat is important. The ability to know where the ball will land and running directly to that spot is important. The ability to turn your hips and get up to speed (which is not measured in either of the speed categories) is very important.
The Reds certainly have some guys who are fast among the group of internal candidates in center. But despite that, they still don’t seem to trust any of them out there on a daily basis. Perhaps that changes when the spring gets going and there are better looks at everyone out there. But for now, it seems that things are still up in the air, and that Joc Pederson probably isn’t the answer to the question, either.