As the month of August fades away, it’s been quite apparent to both the Red Sox and their fans this season that Dustin Pedroia has not been hitting for power like the good ole’ days. Call it natural decline, blame it on hand injuries, whatever rumor floats your boat – the truth of the matter is that while Pedroia can still hit, he seemingly can’t hit it with authority as often as he used to.The 31-year-old second baseman, at least in the big lumber department, has scuffled throughout the year, swatting just seven homers and no triples, despite hitting 32 doubles. While the doubles are great, the fact that Pedroia (.382 SLG) is being out-slugged by Dee Gordon (.389 SLG) is more than a bit concerning. The rise of his strikeout rate to a career-high of 12.7%, while being a rate most major leaguers would kill for, has kept him from keeping that slugging percentage up by reducing his hits altogether, negating a method that Pedroia has used in the past.
It seems like a scary outlook. What needs to be discerned now is if 2014 is just a down year for Pedroia, or indicative of the start of a decline. Pedroia is signed through 2021, and the eight-year extension he recently signed doesn’t even take effect until 2015, so any signs of him slowing down should be thoroughly looked into at this stage of his career, right?
The thing is, Pedroia’s value isn’t necessarily bound to his power hitting. He possesses this amazing skill to make unbelievable amounts of contact, having never had a contact rate below 87% in any season. He’s not even whiffing at an alarming rate. Sure, compared to his earlier years where he only swung & missed roughly 3% of the time, a 4.9% rate this year is only proportionately massive. In simple terms, however, Pedroia is only whiffing once every twenty swings.
His fielding is beyond question, even if it’s so good it skews his fWAR in such a way that he’s got 4.2 wins under his belt while being relatively league average at the plate. While his baserunning isn’t particularly good as a whole, he’s still capable of being smart and opportunistic on the basepaths, especially when there’s a shift on.
Compared to league average rates for second basemen this season, Pedroia is still amazingly productive:
The only area in which the average second baseman wins is in Isolated Power. Everything else is all Dustin, all the time.
Even for his power, it’s not all doom & gloom. Back in February of this year, Marc Normandin of Over The Monster wrote about Pedroia’s power outage, saying that his trademark swing only gives him power in certain spots over the inside corner of the plate, and pitchers have started to pitch away, essentially taking away any power stroke he has. Even so, that doesn’t mean Pedroia won’t get his hits – there’ll just be less of the extra-bases variety. In addition, while pitching away from him has worked in terms of hits allowed, pitchers risk walking him, as Pedroia still has a very keen eye for the zone, as he’s still walking at a rate close to his career average. The outage may not be him aging, but the pitchers sizing him up.
Looking at Baseball Heat Maps‘ batted ball distance data on Pedroia, there’s nothing particularly scary. There’s a slight oscillation since 2009, but there’s no obvious drop-off anywhere here. Nothing too scary. In fact, it even hints that a rebound may be in order, be it this September or next April.
ESPN beat reporter Joe McDonald noted that Pedroia’s recovery from his torn thumb ligament – which sapped him of power in 2013 – disrupted his normal offseason workouts for 2014. We’ve already seen how a couple months of rust can make a player look horrendously ineffective at the plate with Stephen Drew‘s 2014, so it’s not too farfetched that Pedroia lost some edge when recovering from surgery.
His power will be back next season after a normal offseason workout routine. Had cast on his hand most of last winter.
— Joe McDonald (@ESPNJoeyMac) August 4, 2014
Hope springs eternal, but regardless of the way Pedroia goes with his hitting, he’ll still be very valuable and highly regarded. If he regains his power, he’ll obviously be better than if he didn’t at all. In the event that he doesn’t, his other skills make him a valuable contributor well into the future. Even if we don’t hear Don Orsillo say “La Luna!” all that much anymore, Dustin Pedroia will be a rock at the keystone for years to come.