Red Sox fans love him, opposing fans hate him, and it's easy to see why. Dustin Pedroia is the best. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
If there's one position where this division is well-and-truly stacked, it's second base. Over the past three years, three of the top four second basemen by fWAR come from the AL East: Dustin Pedroia, Robinson Cano, and Ben Zobrist.
It's a point of contention, though, as to which one is best. Yankees fans thought they had the competition wrapped up when Cano burst onto the scene back in 2006, but one year later and there was Dustin Pedroia, scooping up first the Rookie of the Year award, and then in 2008 the AL MVP title. Then, as if that wasn't enough, the Rays went ahead and produced Ben Zobrist and an 8.7 WAR season. So, yeah, stacked.
As with all things, of course, the competition may fluctuate from year to year. One year Robinson Cano sees his BABIP drop by 40 points, and the next Pedroia misses half the season with injury. Headed into 2012, however, all three seem on pace for big things.
Blue Jays: Though he doesn't factor in the conversation for the top spot, Kelly Johnson won't exactly be weighing down the division's other contender. While a precipitous drop in BABIP left him floundering in Arizona, the Blue Jays saw an opportunity for a change-of-scenery swap, sending Aaron Hill--experiencing similar problems since what seemed like a breakout 2009--to the Diamondbacks in exchange. Now it appears like both players are ready to take advantage, finishing the year strong in their new homes. Johnson isn't the defensive force that Zobrist and Pedroia are, and he doesn't really stand out above Pedroia or Cano offensively enough to earn consideration for the top spot, but he's one hell of a fourth place finisher.
Rays: He doesn't always play second base, but when he does, Ben Zobrist is pretty great at it. A defensive whiz in both the infield and outfield, Zobrist has been saving runs with the best of them since 2009, when he appeared from nowhere and kept the Rays going strong with an MVP-type season.
While he hasn't made his way back to the same offensive heights (.408 wOBA) since, Zobrist re-established himself at the plate last year with a .360 wOBA. Still, unless he returns to 2009 form, Zobrist is too easily comparable to Dustin Pedroia, whose offensive numbers are clearly superior. If there is an argument to be made for him, it lies in his versatility, but purely as a second baseman, he's second at best.
Red Sox: Now I get to look the homer, but after last year it's hard to argue that Dustin Pedroia isn't the best second baseman in the AL East. Defensively, Pedroia's performance was impressive even by his high standards, with highlight reel gems coming with nearly every game. At the plate, Pedroia not only had the laser show in fine form, with a career-high 21 homers, but even managed to raise his walk rate above his strikeout rate. In a field without the monster performances from Jacoby Ellsbury and Jose Bautista, Pedroia would have been in good shape to win his second MVP.
Yankees: Of course, in any given year Robinson Cano can have a lot to say about that. While his defense still trails well behind that of Pedroia and Zobrist, Cano has improved in that department in recent years, leaving his offensive numbers to tell the story. But as good as Cano is at hitting the ball out of the park--he's slugged over .500 in each of the past three years--other than 2010 he hasn't been getting on base at an elite rate. By any measure, Cano is a great player, but he's going to have to out-hit the likes of Zobrist and Pedroia significantly to contend for top billing, and other than 2010 he just hasn't really done that.
So, yes, the Red Sox blog declares Dustin Pedroia the best second baseman in the game, but right now there really isn't much question to that as far as I can see. Until one of his division competitors puts together another complete package season, or Chase Utley manages to find a time machine back to 2009, Pedroia is clearly the king of the hill.