The 2021 season has already been quite a roller coaster for Chicago Cubs outfielder Joc Pederson.
The former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder came to the Cubs after signing a one-year, $7 million deal in the offseason, essentially becoming the de facto replacement for Kyle Schwarber. The Cubs promised to give him the chance to play on a daily basis – something he failed to find elsewhere.
Things went well initially. Pederson had an enormous spring, hitting the ball out of the park and spraying it to all fields. He even bunted for base hits against the shift.
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As we all know now, spring training is one thing. The regular season is what counts. Unfortunately for the Cubs, Pederson has really struggled early.
The 29-year-old went hitless through his first 13 at-bats. He slashed just .137/.262/.235 through his first 16 games, with 20 strikeouts in 65 plate appearances.
Some of the early-season struggles became a bit more understandable when he was placed on the injured list with a wrist issue. Still, Pederson would have to spend time on the bench after a slow start. Well, better health has really done the trick.
Cubs: Joc Pederson is finding a rhythm
The Palo Alto, CA native had an 0-fer in his first game off the IL on May 4. However, he has hit safely in four of his last five games, with three multi-hit games to boot. He has also been productive in key spots, driving in four runs.
It’s positive to see Pederson get the results. But the most encouraging part of the recent success is how hard he’s hitting the ball. Pederson scorched the first pitch of Tuesday’s game right back at Cleveland ace Shane Bieber at 111.5 MPH. Both of his singles came off that bat at north of 94 MPH.
The exit velocities were every bit as strong in Sunday’s three-hit showing against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He roped a single at 104.6 MPH in the second inning and rocked another one at 98.6 MPH in the ninth inning. The other three-hit game (also against the Pirates) offered more of the same, with Pederson posting another batted ball over 100 MPH and three others above 90 MPH.
Pederson’s slugging hasn’t been there, but launch angle should normalize over time and we should see him hit more home runs and doubles. Regardless, the Cubs will be desperate for him to stay hot.
Chicago is running short on depth. This is especially true in the outfield, as the likes of Ian Happ and Jake Marisnick are both out. Jason Heyward has dealt with some physical issues, and Kris Bryant left Tuesday’s game feeling under the weather.
That’s all a means of saying Pederson’s ability to get on base and drive in runs from the top of the lineup is imperative for a team in need of a spark.
Luckily for the Cubs, Pederson seems to have found something in the batter’s box.