BALTIMORE, MD: Manager Bobby Valentine and Dustin Pedroia #25 of the Boston Red Sox talk before a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Finding someone to blame for this disappointing Red Sox season has become something of an obsession amongst the Boston media and Red Sox fans alike. While there have been many pieces written finding a sole person or group to blame, there have been plenty of articles that logically spread blame around many different factions of the team. For example, Patrick Sullivan wrote this piece explaining the disappointing seasons from various stars on the roster, and Jonah Keri wrote this piece coming to a similar conclusion.
Today I thought I'd take a look at one star in particular who has had an extremely disappointing season by his standards. Coming into the season, I thought that Dustin Pedroia would be the most valuable position player on a team full of stars. Even if you believed that Adrian Gonzalez and/or Jacoby Ellsbury would have a better year, all fans were expecting big things from their star second baseman.
There was good reason for this belief, too. Last season, Pedroia led all major-league second baseman with 8 fWAR, and his 7.8 bWAR trailed only Ben Zobrist. Since 2008 he has shown the ability to swing an above-average bat while playing superb defense at a premium position. There was no doubt in anyone's mind coming into the season that he was one of the elite second baseman in the game. While there aren't many people who have wavered from that opinion, he has still been a big disappointment this year, with an underwhelming .331 weighted-on-base-average (wOBA) and 103 weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+).
From 2008 through 2011, Pedroia ranked behind only Chase Utley in fWAR, and wOBA, and was third behind Utley and Zobrist in wRC+ during that time period. However, he has fallen off that pace so far this year. Below is a chart comparing his numbers from that four-year span to this season.
As you can see, Pedroia has dropped off somewhat significantly in each of those categories in the 2012 season. He went from consistently being 26-percent better than the average hitter to being only two-percent above average this year. There have been some extenuating circumstances to Pedroia's season, however, as one month has put a major dent into these numbers.
Back towards the end of May, he injured his left thumb diving for a ball. At that time, there were reports that the injury would keep the second baseman out of the lineup for a month. Instead, Pedroia returned a week later on June 5th, although that may have proven to be a mistake. In the month of June, he put up horrendous numbers in one of the biggest slumps of his entire career. He ended the month with a .194/.269/.269 slash-line, good (bad?) enough for a .241 wOBA and 41 wRC+. After struggling for the first few days of July, he was shut down and eventually placed on the 15-day disabled list. In retrospect, he probably should have been shut down when the injury first occurred, as he clearly wasn't in playing condition.
Although he never struggled as much as he did in June, Pedroia didn't exactly light it up during May or July, either. After posting a .356 wOBA and 120 wRC+ in April, he slowed down to a .336 wOBA and 107 wRC+ in May. Most of this drop in production can be traced to a lack of power in that month. He went from a .183 isolated power in April to a mark of .131 in May. While he also struggled in July (102 wRC+), he only played in 15 games and accrued 61 plate appearances in the month.
Thus far in August, Pedroia has played a similar amount of time as he did last month. However, he is playing at a pace that he hasn't reached so far in 2012. While his .377/.450/.509 slash-line is boosted by his .426 batting average on balls in play, he has still raised his walk-rate to 10-percent, by far a season high for a single month, while cutting his strikeout-rate to 10-percent, which was only topped by his unsustainable 1.6-percent in July. His plate approach seems to be on the upswing, and he has performed 70-percent better than the average major-league hitter, according to wRC+. He continued this trend last night with a 2-5 performance including a double.
Whichever way you look at it, Pedroia's underwhelming performance has been a primary reason for this team's struggles this year. While the team may hold a lot of the blame for his season after not placing him on the disabled list when his thumb was initially injured, the fans expects more from him, and the team needs it. Thankfully, he seems to be turning it around in the past couple of weeks and looks to be the old Dustin Pedroia that we've all come to know and love. Him keeping this pace up will be a very good sign for him to return to his old ways in 2013. Unfortunately for the 2012 team, he struggled in those middle months when the team needed strong performances to get back in the race. Though he seems to be back on track, it was most likely too little, too late.