Death. Dismemberment. The extinction of humans as a species. Those are probably a few of the things Dustin Pedroia would rather talk about than his age. The Red Sox face-of-the-franchise second baseman has battled through injury for over a decade now and come out on the winning end most of the time, but last year age seemed to get the best of him, or at least come as close to we’ve seen to doing it. Last season may have represented the turning of the tide in the ongoing battle of Pedroia v. Aging. The Red Sox hope the diminutive keystone can buck the trend for another season.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Eliminate the face, the history, and the name, and look only at the production and Dustin Pedroia’s (oops!) 2017 season was fine. Not great, certainly, but fine. His OPS+ was 101 via Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs has his wRC+ at 102. 100 is league average for both so that’s fine, and even better when you consider that second base as a position bats below league average. Further, Pedroia’s on-base percentage was a fantastic .369, a number which, if Pedroia had had enough at-bats to qualify (more on that in the What Went Wrong segment), would have ranked 31st in all of baseball. So let’s not pretend Pedroia didn’t help the Red Sox in 2017 with his bat, because he did.
FRAA didn’t love his defense, but other metrics did, if not as much as in previous years. To my eyes there were a few more mistakes than in previous seasons, but Pedroia’s excellent range and instincts both remained intact. Having him at second base would be a plus for any team, and will be one for the Red Sox.
WHAT WENT WRONG
In a word: injuries. Another word: age. Pedroia missed 57 games with knee injuries in 2017. Knowing Pedroia the way we do, it’s reasonable to assume he played a significant portion of the 105 games he managed to play in some amount of pain or otherwise diminished state. On one hand, it’s impressive he did as well as he did, but on the other there were bad signs, even if you discount the injuries, which you decidedly can’t do. Firstly the defensive numbers fell. Defensive numbers are fickle and even good defenders can have down defensive seasons, but when it happens to a middle infielder entering his mid-30s across the board, it’s officially a Bad Sign™.
Secondly, Pedroia’s baserunning also continued to be, to put it kindly, not the best. Presumably, this is an area the new coaching staff can help him with, but it’s time he realized he doesn’t have the same speed he did when he was 24. With that realization comes another: it’s time to be okay with stopping at second base on a single, or with staying at first after a liner off the monster. Hopefully Pedroia will be hitting in front of J.D. Martinez this coming season and as we all know, scoring from first or second on a home run is easier than doing so from the warmth and comfort of the Red Sox dugout.
But those are relatively minor issues compared to perhaps the biggest issue with Pedroia, which is his loss of power. That can result from age as well as the wear and tear from playing second base in the majors for a decade. However, it was was the combination of his defensive prowess and his power that made Pedroia a perennial down ballot MVP candidate. Without the power he’s still a fine player but he’s not the championship caliber player he was.
Fortunately nothing in his batted ball profile requires a .392 slugging percentage, but there are some things to monitor. The first is pulling the ball. Pedroia pulled the ball less in 2017 than in any season except 2010, another half season lost to injury. Pedroia isn’t the biggest guy so for him to generate power he’s got to be able to pull the ball. Second, Pedroia’s HR/FB ratio was 6.7 percent which is very small. Conventional wisdom says it should be in the 10 percent area, though Pedroia has been all over the map in his career, from 5.2 percent to 11.3 percent the next season. Part of that is luck (does the ball sneak over the wall or is it caught on the track), which is a soothing thing to say about a player like Pedroia of whom a drop in power would be both expected and possibly the beginning of the end. So sure, let’s go with that!
Perhaps after healing up from offseason surgery, he’ll be back to his old ‘jack one over the monster’ ways. It’s certainly possible. And that brings us to offseason surgery. Surgery is never a good sign, but it can bring a measure of health to an athlete. The keys to being a good player is A) being good, and B) playing. Pedroia should be able to do B next season, at least in May when he returns to the team. So that’s a start.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The heart says to expect one more season of stick-it-up-your-asses Laser Show spark-plugishness from the the guy who probably should be the team captain. The head says, are you an idiot? Dude is gonna be 35 in August, he’s got over 1500 games under his belt, and he’s showing signs of slowing down, when he’s not actively not being active because of injury. The rejoinder to that is that Pedroia is a special player. He’s been a cornerstone during the Red Sox greatest run of baseball in over 100 years. He’s earned several World Series rings, he’s been the Rookie of the Year and the MVP. He’s laser showed the heck out of us all for a long time. When his career is over he’s going to have his number retired, it’ll be up there on the right field facade with those of Williams, Yaz, and Ortiz. This guy has so much heart he’s not going to be taken down by a lousy knee injury at age 34. He’s not done. Pedroia’s not finished. No way.
And yet that rat bastard age comes for us all, and based on his 2017 season, it seems it’s coming for Pedoria and its picked now to do so. So that’s what you should expect. You should expect the darkness to continue creeping in from the fringes, dismantling beauty bit by motherfucking bit. You should expect more injury, less range and less power. Less productivity and more disappointment, fewer singles and more sadness. That’s what you should expect. What you should hope for though? Well, this is Dustin F’n Pedroia, perhaps the only player in major league history smaller than the chip on his own shoulder, a guy who has literally spent his entire life proving doubters wrong. So what you should hope for? That’s an entirely different thing.
Photo by Troy Taormina – USA TODAY Sports