By Andre Khatchaturian
Dustin Pedroia is on fire.
After bottoming out with a .262 average on June 27 and being the defiant subject in a Dan Shaughnessy story, Pedroia is hitting .600 over the last five games.
Despite the fact that the Red Sox almost got no-hit by Jake Arrieta and got held to one run or less in three of those five games, seeing Pedroia finally consistently get on base has been a welcome sign.
At the end of the day, it’s not going to be the Daniel Navas and Brock Holts of the world that lead the Red Sox out of their misery. It’s going to be the Pedroias, Ortizes and Napolis.
So what’s gotten into Pedroia over the last five games?
Well, he’s finally realized that in order to get on base, he’s got to get the bat off his shoulders.
Pedroia’s first pitch swinging percentage is just 10 percent this season — the fifth-lowest in baseball.
Pitchers aren’t dumb. They know this. They also know that the Red Sox as a team take the second-most pitches per plate appearance and have the second-lowest first pitch swing rate. If they’re not going to swing, why not just throw it over the plate and get ahead of the count?
Pedroia has become a victim to this notion. The following table shows Pedroia’s swing rate on certain counts and how often the pitches on those counts are actually in the strike zone:
That 63.5 percent strike zone rate on first pitches is the highest in baseball. He starts off falling behind the count 53.7 percent of the time when he doesn’t swing on the first pitch — that’s the 12th highest. Starting off 0-1 puts hitters at a disadvantage.
When it’s 0-1, Pedroia swings 45.5 percent of the time and the ball is in the strike zone just 47.1 percent of the time. So pitchers are throwing out of the strike zone more because they know Pedey is more than four times likely to swing at the next pitch.
Long story short: Pitchers know what Dustin is up to.
Over the last five games, though, Dustin has become more aggressive.
In 23 plate appearances over the last five games, he’s only swung once and taken just 12 strikes. (The one time he took a hack, he got a hit.)
The difference has come after the first pitch. (He’s also been aided by pitchers missing the strike zone. Ten counts have started at 1-0 which has undoubtedly been advantageous for Pedroia.) Pitchers have been pounding the strike zone more often against Pedroia but he’s swinging the bat and it’s translating into results.
Pedroia’s overall swing rate is 42 percent this season, but in the last five games it’s over 62 percent after the first pitch. As a result, Pedroia’s pitches per plate appearance has dropped significantly.
This is a very interesting approach to the plate by Pedroia. He’s being patient on the first pitch, but aggressive in the whole at-bat. This is also a very small sample and it’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues as the month continues.
This also isn’t to say that Pedroia should be swinging at every pitch and turn into the next Yasiel Puig or Carlos Gomez. It does point out, though, that Pedroia has become predictable in his plate approach and pitchers are taking advantage of it by throwing more pitches down the plate when they know Pedroia isn’t going to get the bat off his shoulders.
Now, Pedroia has to reverse the “predictability.” He should know pitchers are throwing over the plate and that he needs to swing more often.
He’s been exhibiting that over the last five games and the Red Sox hope that the trend continues.