Braves 2021 Player Review: Joc Pederson

How to make sense of Joc Pederson’s tenure with the Atlanta Braves?

He served as the first piece of the trade deadline puzzle for Alex Anthopoulos, coming to Atlanta on July 15 in a trade with the Cubs. The Braves sent minor-league power hitter Bryce Ball to Chicago as compensation. It served as the first of many such deadline moves by AA, and if one were to simply look at the numbers, one could come to the conclusion that the Pederson trade was less important than the Rosario and Soler trades which came after. However, there’s more than mere on-field performance at play here.

To that on-field performance for a minute, though, after that July 15 trade he was…OK, I guess? He slashed .249/.325/.428 in a Braves uniform over 64 games (.752 OPS). That’s a bit better than he’d been in Chicago (.718 OPS with lower slash number across the board) over 73 games, but there had been initial thoughts that Joc might finally get a chance to break out of the platoon shackles that he’d grown sick of in LA and actually get a chance to start against lefties. Those thoughts basically ended when Jorge Soler walked through the door. To Joc’s credit, he actually hit a bit better against lefties than righties during his regular-season time here (.784 vs. .743 OPS), believe it or not, but he was decidedly in a platoon/bench role when the regular season wound down.

But that was only the beginning of the story of Joc Pederson in Atlanta. First, his playoff performance. He was undoubtedly one of the biggest reasons the Braves won the Division Series against the Brewers. He basically won Game 3 by himself with a pinch-hit homer in the fifth inning. That 3-run shot provided the only runs in a 3-0 victory that gave Atlanta a 2-1 lead in the series. He forced his way into the lineup for Game 4 after going 3-for-3 in pinch-hit appearances over the first three games, and he drove in a run in the 5-4 series-clinching win in Game 4 (a game which was crazier than you probably remember BTW). If they gave out NLDS MVP awards (which they don’t), Joc would’ve been in the conversation.

He hit a huge two-run home run in Game 2 of the NLCS, tying the score 2-2 in the fourth. That would pretty much be the last big hit he procured for the Braves in the 2021 postseason, but he very much played a big role in the team’s World Series run from that point.

You see, Joc’s most important role was that of clubhouse muse.

For much of Braves playoff history in their run of division titles, a frequent criticism was that they seemed too stiff or business-like. Speaking for myself, I found the criticism sometimes apt during the run of 14 division titles but probably less so for the recent playoff teams starting in 2018. That being said, there were certainly points at which you wondered if the mindset was where it needed to be. Some examples: the 10-run first inning in Game 5 of the ’19 NLDS, the inability to score a run for 12 innings in Game 1 of the ’20 wild card series against the Reds (even though they did eventually win that game), and the fact that a team that had won eight of their first nine postseason games lost three in a row and got eliminated after seemingly turning into a different team upon going up 3-1 on the Dodgers in that year’s NLCS.

That was not a problem with the 2021 team, even after suffering losses in Game 3 of the NLCS and Game 5 of the World Series that had us grizzled fans reaching for the antidepressants. Joc knew what it took to win a World Series (having done it the year before) and he exuded the exact attitude this clubhouse needed. From coining charmingly profane catchphrases to deciding to wear pearls for, as far as I could tell, absolutely no reason whatsoever (and sending Braves fans to their local jewelers or to their mothers’ closets in search of their own), it all helped to keep the team loose. And that’s exactly what they needed.

It feels weird to say that a guy who really wasn’t that great as a Brave (that one week in early October aside) is one of the biggest reasons the team won the World Series for the first time in 26 years. But I absolutely believe it to be the case.

8 thoughts on “Braves 2021 Player Review: Joc Pederson”

  1. Great writeup! No question that Joc’s value to us went far beyond than his on-field production.

    But I wouldn’t completely write off his on-field production. At the end of the day, the four outfielders we got at the deadline not only transformed our lineup, they transformed our bench. Joc gave us a bench bat who was capable of starting in the outfield and giving fits to right-handed pitching and filling in if anyone got hurt.

    He was enormously valuable bench depth, considering that he essentially replaced Abraham Almonte and Ender Inciarte. On purely baseball terms, getting him was a big win for us.

  2. That’s all true, Alex, but it’s clear Joc doesn’t want to be depth… if he’d wanted that, he would’ve stayed in LA. The real questions are: (a) how seriously will the Braves pursue him once pursuit is re-enabled; (b) will they dangle a starting position in front of him; (c) should they dangle a starting position in front of him; and (d) (the easiest question) if they don’t will someone else?

    The only thing I know for sure is that the answer to (d) is yes. The answer to (c) depends on the alternatives, but if the answer to (c) is yes, then a lot of fancy plans are not going very well.

  3. @JonathanF, absolutely right! a) not very, b) no, c) no, and d) I’m sure you’re right!

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