Even though it has been 8 years, it’s tough to see an MVP winner start to decline into a shell of himself. While we are witnessing a few all time greats struggle with father time (Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera), Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia is having some unique troubles.
Perhaps no person in recent memory more embodies the term “scrappy” when trying to define someone, as Pedroia does just everything he can to overcome any obstacle thrown at him. Listed at an extremely generous 5’9 (simply one of those stats that can’t pass the eye test), Pedroia leaves no game with a clean jersey, and very rarely does it happen because of a mistake.
As Pedroia nears 34 years of age, it’s no surprise that he’s slowing down, especially considering how his style of play tends to wear on the body more than a conservative one. Yet he’s been surprisingly durable, only playing less than 135 games once in the last seven years. Still, his production has dipped as he’s struggled to maintain power. The isolated slugging has decreased from .150, to .131 to just .088 this season. He is the only player in the league currently to have a wRC+ over 100 while his ISO is under .100 (he has a wRC+ of 102 so far).
Of course, it’s impressive that he has been productive despite having virtually no power, yet he is still on pace for his second worst offensive season in his career, and closing in on that mark which was 98 in 2014. So when we think about how he’s doing this, luck is something that immediately jumps to mind. But instead, he has a BABIP of .318, right in line with career marks: 21.3% line drive rate and similar hard contact rates to the past few years. So with luck ruled out, we turn to the idea that Pedroia is simply one of the absolute best contact hitters in the game still, a notion that we can prove correct, and fairly easily.
As players are caring less about strikeouts in today’s game in favor of more swings and homers, Pedroia is playing a manager’s dream. His 8.5% strikeout rate is second lowest in the majors, edged out by a half percentage point to perennial MVP candidate Buster Posey. Of course, there’s not a perfect correlation between low strikeout rate and immediate success, but it does exist, and it bodes well for contact on Pedroia’s end.
To further this point, he has just a 4.2% whiff rate, behind only Joe Mauer, legendary contact magician. What is insane is how he can produce so little power, but still be such a threat with his contact skills by barrelling up almost everything he swings at, keeping pace with some of the best players in the league.
Just avoiding the K’s is noteworthy, especially to the level he has, but he is also perhaps the best player at spreading the ball to all fields. His pull, center, and opposite field splits are 36%, 34%, 30% respectively, negating any chance for defensive positioning. To better visualize, here are his balls in play for the 2017 season so far:
There does exist some cluster on the left side of the field, but that is to be expected in the infield (and he does show some tendency to pull). But look closely and something else pops up (pun intended) – a lack of infield fly balls. Just adding to how impressive his swing is, Pedroia rarely pops up for easy outs, in addition to never striking out and spraying to all fields.
Today’s game, possibly in a reaction to advanced stats shifting franchises collective paradigm, perhaps simply a reaction to what fans like, is trending sharply towards power hitters. It’s pretty basic math that a double or homer is more valuable than a single or walk, so much more valuable that a lower rate of getting on base is accepted thanks to the extra bases a power hitter can produce. But Pedroia is a relic of sorts, a pure contact hitter at this stage, with the vast majority of his “power” coming from contact double and the Green Monster’s helpful dimensions.
While he’s not going to light up for many homers, the laser show is still in full effect. He just will not strike out or even swing through many pitches, has no problem sending them all over the field, and he sends them in efficient ways with intent. Just as players such as Mark Trumbo and Mark Reynolds are one trick ponies with their power, Pedroia is a kind of one trick mini-horse, at least offensively, with his crazy contact ability.
His fantasy value is tied to his batting average, much in the same way as fellow former star, Joe Mauer. There are uses for players like this, albeit a limited one. If you desire a dependable batting average then Pedroia is your man. But in today’s fantasy landscape, there are so many other options, almost to the point of making buys like Pedroia obsolete. You can do better than Pedroia – in the same breath, though, you can do much worse.
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