Photo courtesy of bostonherald.com
The 2012 version of the Boston Red Sox are heading into Spring Training with a myriad of questions. In just 12 short months, the Old Towne Team has gone from being projected as the Greatest Team Ever to being viewed as the Most Flawed Team Ever. Their starting shortstop, Marco Scutaro, will be playing second base in Colorado to open the year. The franchise’s best closer, Jonathan Papelbon, will be toeing the rubber in the ninth for the Phillies in 2012. The rear end of the Red Sox rotation possesses two gaping holes. Despite toting a payroll that will likely eclipse $180MM, the ownership group on Yawkey Way is being labeled as a collection of misers, too preoccupied with football in England to be focusing on baseball in New England. Oh, and there was a cataclysmic collapse last September that cost the Red Sox a playoff berth. More importantly, that wet-the-bed effort in the final month of the season forced the media and fans of Boston to question the level of dedication and effort being put forth by many members of that Red Sox team, specifically, the pitching staff. Trust me, there are plenty of items for Sox enthusiasts to worry about.
Dustin Pedroia, on the other hand, represents the exact opposite. When it comes to Pedroia, there is nothing to worry about. He is a stalwart. A stud. If you’re placing a bet on Pedroia to succeed, starting counting your doubloons now because he is a complete and total lock. The scrappy second baseman also happens to be the most important position player on a team that, despite popular opinion, is loaded with talent. Pedroia is good. That already we know. But how good?
Last season, Pedroia got on-base at a .387 clip. Career high. He drove in 91 runs. Career high. The guy even drew 86 walks. Career high. Because he not a burner, stolen bases is not a stat that writers who cover the Sox immediately turn to when analyzing Pedroia, but the second baseman swiped a smooth 26 bags in 2011. He is an intelligent base runner who is sneaky-quick. The 26 bases he nabbed? Career high.
He did all of that with a screw inserted into his left foot. It was removed on September 30th of this past year. As if that wasn’t enough, in a mid-May contest against the Orioles, Pedroia injured his right knee making an off-balance throw to first base. For the majority of 2011, the former MVP had to mentally and physically deal with knowing that an inch-long piece of metal was in his left foot and play through what ended up being a badly bruised knee. In a recent offseason interview with weei.com’s Rob Bradford, Pedroia opened up about how he was feeling during the first part of 2011: “There was the point I bruised the knee cap in my right knee and I’m dealing with the foot and my knee and it was wearing on me. I was more frustrated because I couldn’t do what I wanted to do.” The injury to Pedroia’s knee ended up being relatively minor, but there was plenty of concern at the time. There was even talk of potentially needing surgery. He missed a pivotal game in the series finale with the Yankees on June 9th to have his knee examined in Boston. At the time, he was sporting a less-than-impressive.247/.361/.338 line. The results of the exam were positive–a simple bruise, no surgery needed, and Pedroia finally had a little peace of mind. He went 3-4 and added a walk the next night in Toronto. As a reminder, the veteran rebounded in superb fashion and finished the year with a show-and-tell worthy .307/.387/.474 line. Pedroia puts up numbers that earns him recognition league-wide, but his value to this Red Sox team transcends the traditional statistical categories.
According to Fan Graphs, in 2011, Pedroia accounted for 8 wins above what a replacement player would have offered. A replacement player is identified as someone at the AAA/AAAA level. Nick Punto would serve as a good example of a replacement for Pedroia. Let’s offer some context on the matter of WAR. Pedroia finished fourth among all Major League position players in WAR. Robinson Cano, Pedroia’s rival counterpart who is widely regarded as a superior player, had a 5.6 WAR in 2011, more than two wins above replacement behind the Sox second baseman. The overarching point here is that Pedroia is extremely valuable to his team. His impact on the diamond, relative to the rest of the players in Major League Baseball, has an immensely positive impact on the win column for the Red Sox. He is an integral cog in the Red Sox machine. This coming year will offer a new set of challenges that will undoubtedly test Pedroia’s ability to adapt defensively and provide offensive versatility.
It has been well-documented that the Red Sox will enter Spring Training without an everyday shortstop. Mike Aviles can provide some pop at the plate, but his defense isn’t exactly award-winning. Punto can flash the leather a bit, but he is 34 years old. In the past two seasons, the longtime Twin and former Cardinal has played in a total of 151 games. GM Ben Cherington acquired Punto to serve strictly in a utility role. The dark horse candidate at shortstop is Jose Iglesias. Unless he puts together an eye-widening Spring Training, he will likely find himself in Triple-A to begin the year. In 2012, Pedroia will be anchoring a middle infield that will see multiple faces at shortstop. It is safe to say that Cherington would not have traded Scutaro to the Rockies if the Red Sox did not have the luxury of having a Gold Glove caliber veteran at second base. There is no doubt that Pedroia’s defensive prowess around the second base bag will have to be on display more than ever in 2012. The Red Sox are likely to also lean on his offensive flexibility.
In an ideal world, DP is a guy who slots seamlessly into the two-hole. Hitting behind Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedroia offers power, speed, and the ability to get on base. Not to mention, Number 15 is a right handed hitter who transitions nicely into Adrian Gonzalez, a left handed hitter who is molded for the three-hole. Like Kevin Youkilis, Pedroia is never cheated out of an at bat. Ever. If you’re a starting pitcher, good luck dealing with Ellsbury and Pedroia to begin a game. Pedroia was birthed to hit second in a powerhouse lineup. However, Carl Crawford is another guy who is best served hitting towards the top of the heap. The Red Sox have a lot of those guys. It doesn’t take Connie Mack to figure out that Crawford cannot be hitting in the latter half of the lineup. He just isn’t that guy. Bobby Valentine, I hope, will come to that realization when Crawford returns from his wrist surgery. I don’t care if it lefty-lefty at the top of the order–Crawford needs to be hitting second for his own psyche. Thankfully, Pedroia is an extremely flexible offensive weapon. Who is more likely to succeed if he is bounced around the lineup (between second and fifth): Pedroia or Crawford? DP. Easy choice. Valentine has said on multiple occasions that he does not necessarily believe in a “set lineup”. That’s fine by me. Nevertheless, as the manager, it is vital to provide stability for Crawford, while taking advantage of Pedroia’s ability to get on base and drive in runs. The guy is a total masher who can hit anywhere from the two-hole to the five-hole. He is the definition of being offensively versatile.
Pedroia will play the majority of 2012 at the age of 28. He is entering the prime of his career. He is extremely healthy entering Spring Training. No mental or physical preoccupations exist now that the screw has been extracted from his foot. Pedroia is ready to roll.
There are no questions to be asked. Just as we expected.