With a 19-8 record entering Thursday night’s game against Toronto, the Red Sox have, at the very least, surpassed our expectations so far in 2013.
Much of Boston’s hot start can be attributed to dynamic performances from a handful of key contributors. Clay Buchholz is 6-0 and has allowed zero runs in half his starts; Daniel Nava has been a switch-hitting machine and has established himself as a legitimate starting corner outfielder; and Mike Napoli has put his injury worries aside and blasted a league-leading 31 RBIs to date.
Lost in the shuffle is Dustin Pedroia, whose .330 batting average and .434 on-base percentage have been instrumental to the success of the lineup. Pedroia has scored 17 runs — good for second among American League second baseman — and his six steals in seven attempts have added an extra punch to the top of the order.
Pedroia’s hot start hasn’t stood out as much as some of his teammates’, perhaps because Sox fans have come to rely on the 29-year-old as an annual bright spot in the lineup, regardless of the team’s success. His .303/.371/.459 career line and 2008 AL Most Valuable Player Award have rightfully earned him that trust.
But if fans have reason to worry about one of the team’s mainstays through the first 27 games of the season, it might just be Pedroia, whose high average and on-base clip has been driven by an absurdly high .391 batting average on balls in play (his career BABIP is .313). His ground ball rate has spiked to 57.5%, nearly 14 percent higher than his career average.
Over the last five years, exactly two players – David Wright in 2009 and Austin Jackson in 2010 – have had BABIPs higher than .391. Simply put, it’s not a sustainable mark, or at least one the Red Sox can bank on.
Even more worrisome is Pedroia’s lack of power through the first month. His .058 isolated power ranks 10th among AL second basemen, well short of his .158 career mark. With zero homers or triples and just six doubles so far this year, Pedroia has essentially been a slap hitter, who has been able to find a lot of holes.
This is not to insinuate that Pedroia, who has averaged 16 homers over the past five seasons, has lost his power. The results from 27 games are by no means a barometer to make such a claim.
However, we should expect significantly different results from the Boston second baseman going forward. It’s unlikely he will finish the season with a slugging percentage that mirrors his batting average, but it’s even more unlikely that Pedroia will reach base nearly half the time he steps to the plate. He might start popping some balls off or over the Green Monster soon, but don’t expect him to be scampering around the basepaths at a rate that would give him a career-high 36 steals.
All told, Pedroia is off to a great start, and as the unquestionable leader of the clubhouse, it can’t hurt the team when the best player backs up his game.