Last week, I wrote an article for ESPN’s Sweet Spot Network in which I took a look at Dustin Pedroia’s spike in power last season. My conclusions were not that Pedroia is turning into a power hitter, but that he has, without a doubt, learned to play to his strengths at the plate. While I stopped shy of predicting a 20/20 season for Pedroia in 2011, I also claimed that it wouldn’t surprise me either.
Now seemingly 100 percent recovered from his foot injury and with a spike in power in a smallish sample of 302 at-bats, what do we think Pedroia will do in 2011? He’ll be 27 years old for the majority of the season, right at the start of what should be his prime years. Plus, he’ll be hitting in a prime lineup spot ahead of what should be a thunderous Sox lineup.
As for Pedroia’s power game, we know he’ll hit plenty of doubles — he averaged 47 doubles over three years before last season’s injury cut 2010 short — but can we really expect 20-plus home runs? I would venture to say no, but even if he doesn’t reach the 20 home run mark, he shouldn’t be far off. Pedroia was on pace for about 25 homers in 2011, but there is a good chance he would have slowed in the second half. Even with a second half slow-down, we were probably looking at a career high in home runs from a healthy Pedey.
The majority of Pedroia’s numbers were as steady as could be. He continued to lace line-drives at a high rate (22.2 percent), rarely swing and miss (90.6 percent contact rate) and draw a good amount of walks (10.5 percent walk rate). While his .288 AVG and .367 OBP were both a bit lower than Sox fan’s are used to seeing, both stats should have seen a rise as the season wore on.
The other question will be if Pedroia runs as much as he had before the injury. Not that this team needs him to steal 20 bases again — though fantasy owners will be a bit more needy – but Pedey is always looking for a way to give his team the edge, which means picking a few spots here and there to put himself into scoring position via the stolen base. Pedroia was 9-for-10 last season while attempting to steal. If his surgically repaired foot can hold up for 150-155 games, I don’t see a reason Pedroia can’t or won’t steal 18-20 bags.
About those hitters ahead and behind him…
If Pedroia hits second, he’ll have the lightning-fast Jacoby Ellsbury ahead of him and the lightning-fast Carl Crawford behind him. Having Crawford behind him might actually encourage Pedroia to run more, as no teams are likely to walk Crawford to get to Adrian Gonzalez. Pedroia has scored over 110 runs in 2008 and 2009 and was on pace to do so once again in 2010. He might not set a career high in RBI batting second, but he could set a career high in runs scored.
If Pedroia hits third, he has a realistic chance at scoring over 100 runs while setting a new career high in runs batted in. With the combination of excellent speed and above average on base percentage ahead of him (Ellsbury and Crawford), Pedroia would have plenty of RBI opportunities. Plus, with Gonzalez behind him, Pedroia might see even more fastballs, which he crushes (he was worth 14.4 runs above average on fastballs in 2010 and has held high wFB numbers throughout his career).
When we put all of the factors together (age, steady batting skills, lineup spot, etc…) we have plenty of reason to think that Dustin Pedroia could very well be headed for a career year…as long as his foot can withstand the grind.