Why it’s so easy to love Dustin Pedroia

A look at the first half of his career and what has made him the most beloved Red Sox player of this generation.

“It means the world to me to put on this uniform everyday and to try to represent this city the right way.”

Dustin Pedroia — July 24, 2013

As you undoubtedly know by now, Dustin Pedroia and the Red Sox held a press conference on Wednesday afternoon to announce that they had agreed on a 8-year, $110 million contract extension that will keep him in Boston through the 2021 season. The deal is a fantastic value for the team (as Hunter Golden covered on Wednesday), and it’s a fantastic deal for a player who has long stated that he wanted to be a Red Sox player for his entire career.

Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox lifer. 
(Kelly O’Connor — sittingstill.net)

Even though the extension was something that everyone saw materializing sooner or later, the formal completion of it sent a ripple effect of Pedey love throughout Red Sox Nation. After all, when is the last time a Red Sox player was this easy to love?

Pedroia is a home-grown product. No offense to players like David Ortiz (who will easily go down in my Top 5 favorite Red Sox players of my lifetime), but when a player comes up in your system there is a different level of pride, affection, and connection that surfaces from the fan base. He’s our guy. There are certainly reasonable limits to that feeling though. I would rather have a great player who came up in another organization, like Manny Ramirez, than cling to the optimism that someday Jason Place will actually become a star. But if you think that hired guns like Manny, John Lackey, J.D. Drew, etc. don’t have to earn the fan base’s admiration in a totally different way than players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, and Dustin, than you’re not paying attention.

Remember back to the 2004 draft. The Red Sox are in the midst of an 86 year title drought when they draft a shortstop out of Arizona State in the second round. No one projects him to be a major league SS though, so he’ll be moving over to second base because he’s small, really small. He’s listed at 5’8”, 165 lbs. but even that feels generous. His triple slash line his final year at ASU was .393/.502/.611 with 9 home runs in 59 games, but despite those statistics he feels like an underwhelming choice. In an era where players are seemingly growing bigger by the year at every position, we spent a top draft pick on someone who would look small on a high-school field.

When he arrived in the system he didn’t waste any time making a huge impression. In 2004 he hit .357/.435/.535 in two different levels of A ball. He started out 2005 with AA Portland and continued to tear up whatever level of pitching was put in front of him. In 66 AA games he hit .324/.409/.508. By June 22, eleven months and one day after he signed his first professional contract, he had already ascended to AAA Pawtucket. For the first time in his brief professional career it took his hitting some time to catch up with the pitching. In the remaining 51 games in 2005 he dropped down to .255/.356/.382. He recovered quickly though, and by 2006, his only full year in Pawtucket, he mastered the AAA challenge to the level of a .305/.384/.426 stat line.

At the same time in Boston, Mark Loretta was playing out a one year free agent contract with a solid (.285, 5 HR), but far from spectacular performance (even though he was the starting second baseman for the American League All-Stars that year. How the heck did that happen? He was a 0.5 WAR player that year.). Despite Loretta’s veteran presence on the roster, Dustin debuted on August 22, 2006, just after his 23rd birthday. His performance down the stretch that year was far from memorable, as he hit .191 in 24 games. To the credit of Terry Francona and Theo Epstein, they saw enough in that stint to feel comfortable letting Loretta walk to the Astros and turn the position over to Pedroia full-time. Less than three years after being the starting shortstop for the Arizona State University Sun Devils he had risen to the position of starting second baseman for the Boston Red Sox.

Francona and Epstein’s confidence was almost immediately questioned as he stumbled out of the gate in 2007, hitting .182 with zero home runs for the month April. He looked like a player who was overwhelmed by the jump, but the organization continued to believe that a guy who had hit the ball at every level of baseball that he had ever played would eventually figure it out at the game’s highest level too.

They were right. By the end of May, only one month later, his average had jumped to all the way to .308. At the end of the year his .317 batting average, .380 on base percentage, 39 doubles, and 8 home runs had more than justified the organizational belief that they had a star in the making. As a 23/24-year-old rookie, Pedroia had posted a 3.9 WAR. His reward was the American League Rookie of the Year award and a headlining spot on a team that won their second World Series title in four years.

He’s gritty, he’s gutty, he’s a gamer…oh yeah, and he is also really good at baseball.
(Kelly O’Connor — sittingstill.net)

For an encore to that season he took it to another level. In 2008 he had 213 hits, 54 doubles, 17 home runs, 20 stolen bases (and was only caught stealing once), and an outstanding .326/.376/.493 slash line. He posted an outstanding 6.9 WAR and was the starting second baseman for the AL All Star team. In addition to that, he took home the Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, and MVP awards. All of this from a player who celebrated his 25th birthday during the season, and pocketed a salary of just $457,000.

The Boston brass wisely rewarded him with a 6-year, $40.5 million extension. In the four full seasons he has played under that contract, he has averaged 5.4 Wins Above Replacement. So far in his outstanding 2013 campaign, he has accounted for 4.5 wins. With a win generally considered to go for about $5 million dollars a year on the open market, Pedroia has been worth $130.5 million in the first five years of this deal while actually being paid $29.25 million. He has unquestionably been one of the best values in the game. Never once has he publicly complained, held out, or referred to himself as underpaid.

With that in mind, as Pedroia approached free agency at the end of next season, it would have been hard to fault him for wanting to test the waters and see what he is really worth. It would be difficult to paint him as the bad guy if he said “I’ve been vastly underpaid and if Boston wants to keep me now is the time to pay up for past performance” in the way that Derek Jeter did in his last contract negotiations. So Red Sox Nation breathed a collective sigh of relief (and let out a cheer) when the news came down that “our guy” would continue to be “our guy” likely for the rest of his career.

What is so great about Pedroia is that he is everything that “old-school baseball people” love, and everything that statistically-oriented modern fans appreciate all rolled together. He is a “gritty little gamer” who gets every ounce of performance out of the talent that he was given. He is a guy who undeniably gives a crap. He plays hard. He plays hurt. He loves the game. He loves to win. He loves the city and fans of Boston. He excels at everything that you can’t measure.

But, he also stands above the competition in pretty much every available metric designed to measure the game he plays.

The grizzled scout that has “seen it all”? He sees everything that he could ever want when he watches Dustin play the game, and he loves him.

The sabermetrician that believes you can measure anything worthwhile on a baseball diamond with statistics? He examines Pedroia’s baseball-reference.com page with a reverence that is only reserved for a select few, and he loves him.

That is why it is so easy to love Dustin Pedroia. I’m thrilled that we get to watch him play out the rest of his career for the team that we love.

(Now someone start sewing the “C” on his jersey already.)

Categories: 2007 World Series Boston Red Sox Clay Buchholz David Ortiz Derek Jeter Dustin Pedroia J.D. Drew Jacoby Ellsbury Jason Place John Lackey Manny Ramirez Mark Loretta Terry Francona Theo Epstein

I'm a native Mainer and life-long Red Sox fan living among way too many Yankees fans in New York. I spent most of my childhood convinced that Spike Owen was going to be awesome, sooner or later. The last time I punched a wall was October 16, 2003. My bucket list included personally thanking a Red Sox player for 2004, something I was finally able to check off when I met Trot Nixon. Follow @JK7_

One Response to “Why it’s so easy to love Dustin Pedroia” Subscribe

  1. Timothy Brooks July 26, 2013 at 10:52 AM #

    That 2006 All Star game. Vernon Wells, Mark Loretta, Kenny Rogers 7-9. Woof.