Was 2017 The Dustin Pedroia We Should Expect Going Forward?

Dustin Pedroia is the face of the Boston Red Sox. With twelve years in the majors, he is by far the longest-serving member of the team; his resume starts with two World Series rings, with the possibility of adding several more before his current contract with the Red Sox expires after 2021. If he produces at his career-average level over that contract, he has a serious chance at the Hall of Fame. However, his reckless style of play has led to repeated injuries, and 2017 was Pedroia’s least-productive season (by WAR) since his brief appearance in 2006 at the age of 22.

Pedroia’s contributions lie in more than batting. He is an excellent defender; his four Gold Gloves were well deserved, and while he may have lost a step he remains among the best at his position. On the other hand, in his early years he also was a well above-average baserunner, and in that category he is no longer a positive. Here are FanGraph’s ratings of Pedroia’s defense and baserunning over his career:

From being a moderately above-average baserunner from 2008 to 2011, Pedroia declined to about average until 2015, and in the past two years he has been much worse than average — 163rd of 181 players with 450 or more plate appearances this season.

As a batter, Pedroia has historically combined excellent on-base skills with league-average power. Although he has retained the former (his OBP of .369 this year is higher than his career average of .366, and places him 35th among players with at least 450 PA), his power has drastically dropped, with his ISO at the second-lowest level of his career. Worse, his power loss has coincided with the baseball-wide surge in home runs; relative to the rest of the league, his ISO is even worse than in 2014.

We can look at Pedroia’s batting, relative to all other right-handed batters, broken down by pitch type and by zone. In this chart, regions in which Pedroia has more total bases per pitch than the average RHB are red, those where he has less are blue, and those where he is about average are white:

Over his career, Pedroia has hit fastballs and breaking pitches at around league average, especially on the inside half of the strike zone. He has done even better against offspeed pitches over the past few years. In 2017, although he has continued to hit fastballs reasonably well, his production against breaking and offspeed pitches has dropped off, to the point that he is well under league average against them. Here is a summary chart:

Over the course of 2017, his production has fluctuated, mainly due to small sample size (note that he was injured throughout most of August and only had five plate appearances during the entire month); but he has generally continued to struggle against breaking pitches.

Pitchers and scouts are aware of this, and so Pedroia has seen more offspeed and breaking pitches, and fewer fastballs, for the past several years, peaking at 29.9% breaking/9.3% offspeed pitches this September (ignoring August’s small sample size).

Pedroia’s aggressive play has led to a long list of injuries over his career. His strong performance in his relatively healthy 2016 season offers some encouragement that he retains his fundamental skills, but he was limited to 105 games in 2017, with knee issues keeping him off the field for all of August and restricting his playing time before and after that. While the Red Sox expect him to be on the playoff roster, his injuries seem to have sapped his power and destroyed his baserunning value. He still remains a solid contributor to the team through his defense and on-base skills (to say nothing of intangibles), but unless his power returns with his health, his value will drop dramatically.

Featured image courtesy of masslive.com

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