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October 29, 2007

Player Profile

Dustin Pedroia

by Marc Normandin

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Now that Dustin Pedroia's rookie season is officially over with the conclusion of the World Series Sunday night, it's time to take a look back at what went right for him this year, as well as what we can expect from the young second baseman going forward.

Pedroia was a force at the plate for three years at Arizona State as the team's shortstop, winning a slew of awards. He was named Freshman Second Team All-America shortstop and Pac-10 Conference All-Star shortstop in 2002, Summer League First-Team All-American shortstop, Tempe Regional MVP for the College World Series, Second Team All-American shortstop and Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2003, then First Team All-American shortstop and another Pac-10 Player of the Year award in 2004. The performance merited his multitude of awards:


Year Team                  AB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B   BB%     K%
2002 Arizona State(NCAA)  236  .347/.417/.432   20% .085   15     9.0%   7.1%
2003 Arizona State(NCAA)  297  .404/.472/.579   34% .175   37    10.4%   3.8%
2004 Arizona State(NCAA)  244  .393/.502/.611   35% .218   25    15.9%   5.0%

Pedroia's control of the strike zone stands out more than anything else; his low K% was a huge reason for his .400 batting average, but he wasn't just avoiding strikeouts by hacking-Pedroia also managed to walk 23 times more than he struck out in 2003, and 33 more times in 2004. Overall, Pedroia was a powerful doubles hitter with excellent plate discipline and control of the zone, and in recognition of those talents, the Red Sox selected him in the 2004 amateur entry draft with the 65th overall pick in the second round.

Pedroia's hitting did not stop with his professional debut at Augusta in the Sally League; in fact, he hit so well there that the Sox promoted him to High-A before season's end, where the 20-year old continued to smash the ball down the lines for extra bases:


Year Team           AB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B   BB%     K%
2004 Augusta(A)     50  .400/.474/.560   30% .160    6    10.5%   5.3%
2004 Sarasota(A+)  107  .336/.417/.523   36% .187   11    10.2%   3.1%

At just over 150 at-bats, the sample is small, but Pedroia still managed to walk much more than he struck out, and had more extra-base hits than strikeouts at both stops. If you're looking for a neat piece of information on Pedroia's minor league career, you can't beat the fact that in 1040 career minor league at-bats, he struck out just 77 times, while accumulating 125 walks and 100 extra-base hits; Pedroia never struck out more than he walked at any stop in the minors, and only his half-season at Pawtucket in 2005 saw him strike out more than he smacked extra bases.

After that initial, successful introduction to pro ball, Baseball America ranked Pedroia the sixth-best prospect in the organization, with some positive things to say:

Pedroia represents one extreme of the tools vs. performance debate. He's not physically gifted, but he wins. A two-time All-American at Arizona State, he had no problem adjusting to Class A in his pro debut. He batted a combined .357 and didn't commit an error in 42 games. Pedroia has tremendous ability to handle the bat and control the strike zone, making him a candidate to bat second in a big league lineup. His hands and fundamentals are excellent at shortstop, and the Red Sox believe he'll be able to stay at that position. He enhances his average speed with uncanny instincts. Several scouts have questioned whether Pedroia has enough arm and range to play shortstop…Pedroia will never be a home run threat, though he'll have some gap power.

Baseball Prospectus 2005 gave Pedroia a big endorsement, and PECOTA was even more generous, forecasting a .299/.368/.435 line with 32.0 VORP in the majors, just 5.7 VORP behind new Red Sox shortstop Edgar Renteria's projection:

The first pick by the Sox in the 2004 draft, Pedroia was a superstar at Arizona State, All-Pac-10 all three seasons, once Pac-10 player of the year, and twice National Defensive Player of the Year. He slipped to the Sox at 65th overall because he's only 5'8", but the organization loves him. Though he won't show much power, he hits for a high average and keeps his walks up. His pro debut saw him blitz through the Sally League before performing well at high-A Sarasota…He could quickly turn into the player everyone in Anaheim thought David Eckstein was.

Pedroia did nothing to hurt his status with his 2005 showing, winning honors as both the Eastern League and Double-A All-Star second baseman while tearing up the L)'))" onmouseout="hideTip()">E(L)Lin Portland. A promotion Pawtucket presented more of a challenge, but that his struggles were in part the result of a wrist injury after a HBP that sapped his power for the rest of the year:


Year Team             AB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B   BB%     K%
2005 Portland(AA)    256  .324/.409/.508   35% .184   21    11.4%   8.7%
2005 Pawtucket(AAA)  204  .255/.356/.382   29% .127   10    10.0%   7.1%

The control of the strike zone and the plate discipline were still evident, and his Isolated Power remained basically the same until his wrist injury. With Hanley Ramirez still in the organization, Pedroia spent his time at second base, and performed well there. Long-term, it was just as well, as he was more suited for that position than shortstop.

Baseball America moved Pedroia up to the fifth spot on the organization's top prospect list heading into the 2006 season, noting:

He has extraordinary hand-eye coordination. He's able to swing from his heels yet make consistent contact with gap power. Managers rated his strike-zone discipline and second-base defense the best in the Eastern League last year. His instincts and makeup are excellent. Pedroia's arm and range aren't quite up to par at shortstop…Pedroia's speed is a step below-average, but he runs the bases well. He needs to get stronger to hold up over a full season.

Just to focus on the "step below-average" speed, someone should really tell Joe Buck that being 5'8" with good instincts does not make you a speedy baserunner, nor does it automatically make you David Eckstein.

Baseball Prospectus 2006 was still pleased with Pedroia's performance, and PECOTA continued its obsession, forecasting a .299/.365/.458 line with 33.6 VORP despite the slowdown in performance at Pawtucket:

The team's first pick in the 2004 draft, Pedroia sped through four levels to get to the doorstop of the major leagues. He played shortstop at Arizona State, but the team moved him to second base last year, pairing him with Hanley Ramirez in Portland. His only above-average tool is his bat, but he continues to impress with it. His hitting slowed down a bit in Pawtucket when he was hit by a pitch in the left wrist. Pedroia was due to compete for the second base job before the Mark Loretta acquisition. He might see time back at shortstop, but more likely will spend a full year at Pawtucket.

Pedroia would start slowly for Pawtucket in 2006, hitting just .261/.352/.359 in April and May before recovering to hit .330/.402/.461 in his next 282 Triple-A at-bats. With the multitude of Red Sox injuries late in the season, the Sox called Pedroia up to take over at second base, but with awful results. Pedroia hit just .191/.258/.303 during his major league debut:


Year Team             AB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B   BB%     K%
2006 Pawtucket(AAA)  423  .305/.376/.426   29% .121   33    10.2%   6.4%
2006 Boston(MLB)      89  .191/.258/.303   35% .112    4     7.1%   7.1%

Pedroia didn't look lost at the plate, as his walk rates and low strikeout rates show, but major league pitchers had an easier time dealing with his quick swing than their minor league brethren. Some thought that Pedroia was trying to do too much with pitches, and getting away from the hitting philosophy that made his swing as productive as it was.

Pedroia's former coach at Arizona State, Pat Murphy, was interviewed earlier this season about Pedroia. Besides being a fun read into a player's personality, the interview had this tidbit regarding his swing:

We've developed a concept that is going to be the future of baseball in 2030, and that's corner hitting: hitting it to the left field and right field corners. … Hit it down the left field line and right field line. There are certain pitches and pitchers that he would go against and I would always tell to keep away from the middle of the field because [Dustin] isn't strong enough to hit it over a center fielder's head. The other thing I would tell him is to hit it in front of the outfielders; don't try to hit it by them but just hit it in front of them. You get too much air underneath it and they'll catch it. I didn't really teach him anything, though. He didn't change anything about his game at Arizona. He's hit the same way; he's fielded the same way.

That style has served Pedroia well, and anyone who has watched him this year-and he's had plenty of national stage time this month-can see that he seems to wrap the bat around the ball every time he makes contact, and is almost always centered where he needs to be in order to smash it down the lines.

PECOTA's love for Pedroia did not diminish despite the poor start to his big league career. His 2007 weighted-mean forecast was .294/.360/.431, with a .306/.375/.455 75th-percentile projection. After hitting just .182/.308/.236 in April, Pedroia .333/.389/.467 the rest of the way:


Year Team          AB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B   BB%    K%
2007 Boston(MLB)  520  .317/.380/.442   29% .125   40     8.3   8.1%

Much of Pedroia's value is in his batting average, though he walks plenty and has doubles power. Luckily for the Red Sox and Dustin, his BABIP and batted-ball rates match up pretty well:


Year  P/PA   FB%  LINEDR%  GB%   IF/F%  HR/F%  BABIP eBABIP  Diff.
2007   3.8  35.3%  21.8%  42.9%  28.7%   5.1%  .334   .338  +.004

Pedroia's batting average requires no significant change, as he hits a high percentage of liners thanks to his swing. If there was one area where you could expect Pedroia to lose a few points of average in next season, it would be infield hits; he accumulated 15 of them this season despite his below-average speed, but seeing some of those become outs wouldn't result in more than a small change to his numbers.

It seems as if Pedroia hits a significant number of infield flies, but that has more to do with the fact that he rarely hits flyballs to begin with. Only roughly 25 percent of his batted-balls were flyballs to the outfield, with nearly 10 percent more of his total flyballs registering as popups. Pedroia hit .769 on line drives, and .279 on grounders, while managing just .195 on flyballs of the outfield variety.

Taking a look at Dan Fox's new and improved batted-ball charts, we get a feel for how Pedroia's batted-ball distribution went on the field:

Fox hit chart

Pedroia's average on grounders up the middle helped boost his groundball batting average, and his liner distribution is even all over the outfield, with similar results. Taking a look at Pedroia's hit chart from MLB.com helps us to see why, as the location of most balls when they are fielded is in front of where the outfielder normally stands:

MLB.com chart

This is just from his at-bats at Fenway, but many of these hits are shallow. However, Pedroia is capable of hitting it over the head of the left and right fielders as well, though he has more success hitting them to left with the wall there. This is reflected in Pedroia's home/road splits: the right-hander hit .351/.410/.502 at Fenway, and .282/.349/.380 on the road. Given his position (second base) and his defensive ability-Pedroia finished near the average for John Dewan's Revised Zone Rating, and was at 6 FRAA in Clay Davenport's system-hitting .282/.349/.380 in half of your games isn't a terrible thing. He's on base often enough to contribute, and his secondary skills enhance his overall value. Fenway allows Pedroia to shine through that much more though, and makes him a dangerous hitter rather than an average one as a second baseman.

Overall, it's easy to envision Pedroia hitting about the same in the future as he did this year, though maybe with a higher slugging percentage-April's numbers dragged his line down considerably. Fenway Park is his friend and helps to boost his numbers, which isn't a big deal as long as he continues to play in Fenway for half of his games. If Pedroia were to add some strength, he may be able to hit for more gap power on the road, as fielders couldn't shade him shallow as easily. Until that happens, though, you can expect this PECOTA darling to continue to play the same way he has since college, a great thing for the Sox.

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