A number of factors have led to the Red Sox’s offensive woes in 2014, most notably the club’s subpar outfield production and Boston’s inability to replace departed players such as Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
But the middle of the Red Sox lineup hasn’t performed as expected either. While David Ortiz is still slugging .480 and, through Monday, had posted a .230 ISO (power numbers only slightly below his career norms), his on-base percentage has slid downward to its lowest point since 2009. Mike Napoli has been Boston’s best hitter (improving both his walk and strikeout rates from a season ago), but he also missed over two weeks of time on the DL.
Most worrisome, though, are the struggles of Dustin Pedroia, who has seen his power numbers decrease for the fifth straight year. The 30-year-old comes into Wednesday batting .272/.342/.379 with four home runs and 27 extra-base hits.
Pedroia has produced at a roughly league-average rate, compiling a .322 wOBA and a wRC+ of 99, numbers that aren’t bad by any stretch, but certainly leave something to be desired for Boston’s three-hole hitter.
The nine-year veteran has begun to heat up lately, with Pedroia batting .315/.356/.407 with a home run and two doubles over the last 15 days. One has to remember, also, that Pedroia is a streaky hitter and always has been, his cold spells often followed by stretches in which he sprays line drives all over the field on a consistent basis.
The pint-sized infielder didn’t give himself the nickname “Laser Show” for nothing, after all.
But there are indications that Pedroia’s struggles are a little different this time around, and—it must be said—with the second baseman now on the wrong side of 30, might his power be suffering as a result of normal aging and physical decline?
Pedroia’s walk and strikeout numbers sit in line with his career norms—his 10.1% walk rate and 12.5% strikeout rate indicating a player who is difficult to strike out and can still command the strike zone.
That reality only makes his dip in power more ominous, however. Pedroia’s current .107 ISO and .379 slugging percentage would represent career-worst marks by quite some margin, and they continue a five-year trend that has seen his power dip each season.
Dating back to 2010, Pedroia’s ISO has sunk from .205 to .167 to .160 to .114 in each season the past four years. In a similar manner, his slugging percentage has decreased from .493 in 2010 to .474 to .449 to .415 in 2013.
Injuries have played a role as Pedroia played much of last season with a torn ligament in his left thumb. The same can be said this year, with Pedroia’s sore wrist only recently improving.
Yet even if injuries can be blamed for Pedroia’s recent dip in power, the 30-year-old’s consistent ailments need to be acknowledged as well. Pedroia is a hard-nosed guy, who will surely never curtail the “all-in” manner in which he plays (and surely, no one is asking him to).
But, as he ages into his thirties, Pedroia’s health woes will likely continue to grow, and second baseman have a notorious history of aging poorly once they move beyond their twenties. Has Pedroia already begun showing signs of clear decline, or is this another blip on the radar, a product of Pedroia truly being less than 100%?
No one is arguing that Pedroia needs to be taken out of the lineup, or that the long-term contract he signed last July will suddenly become an albatross like Robinson Cano’s is destined to become. All of this will be forgotten and rendered moot if Pedroia hits .400 over the next few months (something he has certainly done in the past).
His last two weeks indicated that Pedroia might finally be heating up, although cherry-picking stats over a given period of time is rarely predictive or informative over the long haul.
For now, the Red Sox will have to hope Pedroia can regain some of the power he has lost so far in 2014. Health, age, and the standard struggles any hitter goes through over the course of a long season are all factors that can explain away Pedroia’s first three months at the plate.
Here’s hoping we see No. 15 launch a few more balls over the green monster in the coming weeks.