Welcome to BP Boston’s second annual Roster Recap series. Over the next few months, we’ll be analyzing every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. From MVP-candidate right fielders to reserve relievers, we want to give you a look at every Red Sox who might matter in 2017. View the complete list of Roster Recaps here. Enjoy!
With the exception of the last couple of seasons, Dustin Pedroia has been as close to a constant for the Red Sox as a player can be. But injuries – and probably age – chipped away at Pedroia’s consistency and raised questions about how long he could continue to play with his all-out style. Well, in 2016 he responded to his doubters, as he has so often in his career, by returning to previous form and posting an excellent season at the plate and, depending on who you ask, in the field.
A significant aspect of Pedroia’s success last season came because he was able to stay on the field, which he says was due to the change he made in his offseason workout plan to focus more on agility and flexibility rather than on strength. As Pedroia put it when discussing the change in his training, “I trained to be an athlete instead of more sport specific.” His new conditioning program reportedly allowed his swing to be freer, let him move better at second base (especially his first step) and prepared his body for the grind of the season. It seems to have worked.
All told, Pedroia’s 2016 season was great, and were it not for all the attention that Mookie Betts, David Ortiz and Rick Porcello garnered, more people would have been talking about it.
What Went Right in 2016
Almost everything went well for Pedroia in 2016. At the plate he had a return to his 2011-2013 levels. He posted a .318/.376/.449 slashline (.273 TAv). While his power was down from those seasons, his on-base percentage and strikeout rate were better. His striking out less despite being five years older and playing at a time when league-wide strikeout rates are the talk of the town is noteworthy. These changes in performance can, like everything else in his 2016 season, seemingly be traced to the change in his workout program noted above: reduce the focus on strength and increase the focus on responsiveness. That approach was particularly useful for Pedroia during his time as the Red Sox’s leadoff hitter. Pedroia spent roughly a quarter of his season at the top spot in the lineup (213 plate appearances), the most PA he accumulated in that spot in his career. He posted the third best OBP (.394) of any hitter with at least 200 plate appearances as the leadoff guy. It was out of the leadoff spot that Pedroia had his near-historic consecutive PA hit-streak of 11. Basically, he did an excellent job jump-starting the offense in front of the guys who kept their focus on strength.
On defense, Pedroia’s season was not as clearly great as it was on offense. This is due to the murkiness that remains around defensive metrics. If you look at defensive runs saved (DRS), Pedroia was back to old form, saving 12 runs; tied for the best mark among second baseman with fellow Gold Glove finalist and eventual winner Ian Kinsler. If you look at ultimate zone rating (UZR) the story is much the same. Pedroia’s 12.5 UZR was on par with his previous standout defensive seasons and good for the second-best number among second baseman in 2016. However, if you take BP’s fielding runs above average (FRAA), Pedroia measured as a below average two-bagger (-2.4 FRAA), ranking 27th among those with at least 300 PA.
I am not a defensive metrics wizard, so am not really equipped to adequately comment on why two systems had Pedroia as a top-level defender and one had him as one of the worst. Differences in park adjustment? Credit allocated to the pitching staff? Stronger regression? I don’t know. We should probably avoid putting too much stock into single-season samples of defensive metrics, but two of the three think that Pedroia’s defense was excellent in 2016 so I will keep it here in the What Went Right section.
What Went Wrong in 2016
Very little went wrong for Pedroia in 2016. It is well-known that he despises losing, so I am sure the quick exit from the playoffs pissed him off, but that is more of a team thing. However, it is worth nothing that his .167/.286/.250 in the ALDS was not helpful. I suppose BP’s evaluation of his defense could go in this section, but DRS and UZR disagree so that is tricky. Really I am grasping to find something that was clearly “wrong” for Pedroia last year. He had a great season.
Outlook for 2017
As with many players, health will be the limiting factor for Pedroia. He is a hard-nosed, gritty, all-out player, which is great but is hard on the body, especially for a soon-to-be-33-year old second baseman. That, and second basemen remaining productive into their mid-thirties is not the norm. However, if he resumes the training/workout plan he implemented last offseason (and it truly was the thing that helped him rebound in 2016) then we can expect another 3-5 win season from him; of course that win total also depends on the metric you use to evaluate his defense.
With David Ortiz gone, Pedroia will be undoubtedly regarded as the leader of the Red Sox clubhouse. This is still a young team and Pedroia will have an important role in guiding them through another season in which expectations are high for them to repeat as AL East champions and make a deep run through the playoffs.
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