There's a scene in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me that I can't help but relate to Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson. Austin sits in bed and comes to the sudden realization he's "lost his mojo."
We've heard this before when it comes to athletes, though it often refers to a slow decline. For Pederson, it was almost an overnight transformation.
I don't know if Pederson one day last summer woke up and wondered if his version of Dr. Evil—maybe an opposing pitcher?—had ripped out whatever intangible phenomenon caused him to tear through the league as a rookie in April of last season. But a cliff-like drop in average came in May, followed by a similar decline in his power numbers in July, and it left me wondering what the heck had happened.
Whatever it was, Pederson needs to figure it out this spring. It's crucial for the Dodgers that he recalibrates himself into an impactful hitter.
The organization should be rooting hard for Pederson to win the starting center field job. The team needs his defense. Last year, he had a revised zone rating of .929 on FanGraphs, which was 14th among all outfielders.
Yet his offense was so bad, there were times in 2015 his defense couldn't justify his position as a starter. L.A.'s offense needs his power. But more importantly, it just needs him to put balls in play.
In April of last season, Pederson hit .298/.461/.596 and looked like the lead dog for National League Rookie of the Year. His average ticked up to .300 after a May 1 game against the Arizona Diamondbacks then did a disappearing act that rivals any David Copperfield trick.
He hit .236 in May, .222 in June, .169 in July and .120 in August. A .197 September batting average helped him finish the season hitting .210. As for his power numbers, he hit the 20th of his 26 homers in 2015—second-best on the team—on June 29. He had a streak of five consecutive games with a home run that stretched into early June—essentially the last we heard of Pederson's bat in 2015.
What went awry might have been his unrelenting devotion to maintaining his power numbers, which caused him to strike out 170 times last season, the fifth-highest total in baseball. There has been a change in his mentality and his swing, according to JP Hoornstra of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (via the Los Angeles Daily News).
Last season, the left-handed hitting Pederson had a swing so focused on power that his front foot would turn over to the extent that it appeared as if he was rolling his ankle. That element is gone, according to Hoornstra, with a new swing featuring much more fluid footwork.
A movie theater would run out of popcorn before we saw players come to spring training without referencing the adjustments they made all winter. Batting stances, lost weight and diets are popular topics among players. We don't know if the adjustments are meaningless until the season starts, though.
The conundrum: If Pederson's newly minted swing doesn't net results, who from a Dodgers outfield shrouded in uncertainty will carry the offensive burden?
Injuries have limited Carl Crawford, and at 34 years old, he is a wild card. Andre Ethier hit .294 last year and is a solid left-handed bat against righty pitchers. But he's barely serviceable against lefties. In 45 at-bats against left-handed pitching last season, he hit .200 and is a career .234 hitter against it.
Right fielder Yasiel Puig only played 79 games last season while dealing with hamstring issues, and reports of clubhouse friction from Yahoo's Jeff Passan, among others, made Puig the subject of trade speculation. Both have combined to hinder the freakish potential we saw when he hit .319 as a rookie in 2013.
There's hope, obviously, but not necessarily any more than there is with Pederson, who is only 23.
Even more shocking than Pederson's drastic drop was that despite his high strikeout total, he had an on-base percentage of .346. Pederson's walk percentage was 15.7, which ranked him sixth in baseball.
He has a keen eye. If he can learn to lay off some pitches, he can develop into the kind of top-of-the-order hitter the Dodgers could use. For those wondering, by the way, in today's game, it's perfectly all right to lead off with power. In fact, the majority of his at-bats last season (268) came in the leadoff spot.
Given his walk rate, that may be where he could help the team most.
He will need to prove himself worthy, though. Find his mojo. Develop a better swing. Be less focused on power numbers. Call it whatever you want.
The April 2015 version of Pederson needs to be revived.
Seth Gruen is a national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @SethGruen and like his Facebook page.
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