Where's Dustin Pedroia's power? Ask the pitchers

Elsa

Pitchers can't get Dustin Pedroia out, so now they are content with just keeping him in the park.

Dustin Pedroia is having another fantastic season. The Red Sox second baseman is hitting .333 and walking more than ever. His strike outs are up a tiny bit, but Ks are up across the game, and with a league average rate of 20 percent his 13 percent rate still makes him one of the toughest guys in the game to strike out. There has been one thing missing from his game this season, however: Pedroia is not hitting with the type of power he ordinarily does. His Isolated Power, or ISO, is at an all-time low of .114, more than 40 points off his career rate.

The issue is not so much with Pedroia, but rather with the way opposing pitchers are working against him. Tim Britton of the Providence Journal had an excellent breakdown of this phenomenon on Saturday. As Britton notes, pitchers are throwing Pedroia more pitches low and outside than ever before, and this has forced him to go to the opposite field with greater frequency. Pedroia has little power to this part of the field but he racks up singles going that way, and pitching to outside of the plate exclusively probably isn’t helping pitchers avoid the walk either.

The fantastic PITCHf/x hitter profiles created by Baseball Prospectus and Brooks Baseball illustrate opposing pitchers’ strategy perfectly.

Pitchers have always tried to pitch this way to the Red Sox star, but this season they have been even more extreme about it. Surprisingly, Pedroia does whiff more on pitches up-and-in and he is far more likely to chase pitches out-of-the-zone inside than he is to chase away, so we might expect pitchers to try to exploit that. Yet, opponents have collectively decided to throw him fewer fastballs inside than ever before. It is almost as if they are willing to let the man have his .400 OBP as long as they can avoid this:

Pedroia-hr

Here Dustin Pedroia goes deep against Twins pitcher Jared Burton for his second home run of the year. Burton was not controlling the ball well during this at bat. He threw four pitches and none were low despite catcher Joe Mauer setting up low and away for at least three of them. Burton did manage to keep three of the four pitches away from Pedroia, but he wasn’t exactly painting the edges of the plate. The pitch Pedroia hits out drifts up and slightly in, but it was probably not intended for that spot. Intentionally or not, Burton ends up pitching right into Pedroia’s limited power zone and he gets punished for it.

It takes a max-effort stroke for him to put the ball in the seats and it also takes a pretty specific pitch as he ISO across the zone shows.

Yet, even though he gets pitched away almost exclusively, Pedroia doesn't have to cheat toward the outer half of the plate in any way. If he did that, he would almost certainly become vulnerable to pitches inside. Instead, Pedroia makes incredibly quick adjustments with his hands and upper body. An example from the day before his home run off Burton illustrates this:

Pedroia-double

This is a 2-2 pitch at 88 mph. All four of the previous pitches were away and this one ends up where it is was supposed to -- low and away -- but it gets a bit more of the plate than Scott Diamond would have liked. Pedroia’s lower body moves almost exactly the same way it does in the first GIF, but his shoulders open up less and his hands extend out and follow the ball down, staying inside it. The result is double to the opposite-field gap. This is the type of hit that makes Pedroia so incredibly effective even when pitchers are able to execute their game plan against him.

Even among the highly skilled group that makes up professional baseball, there are very few players who can excel at hitting such different pitches. A quick look at Pedroia’s swing on that line drive double might have given a pitcher with a good fastball the notion that he can be beat inside at one point in his career. His hands stay back a long time and his stride leaves him falling towards the plate. That is deceptive, though. That stride is more balanced than it looks and he doesn’t need to alter it to turn on an inside fastball. Most importantly though, Pedroia is lightning quick through the zone -- watch how long he is able to wait on the ball in the two examples above. His hands and hips are extremely quiet until the ball is almost on the plate, but he is still able to catch up with the 92 mph offer from Burton.

Quickness like that is rare and because of his size, people once overlooked that key element in Pedroia's game. That isn’t happening any more. He has been too good for too long for any one to be fooled at this point. Pitchers aren’t trying to beat him anymore, they are just trying to contain him.

He sums things up quite well here:

"I want to make my swing as short and compact as possible. That’s my strength. Somebody like Jose (Bautista), his strength, he has so much leverage that when he gets extended he’s hitting literally balls to the moon. I’m stronger when the ball is closer to me because I only weigh 165 pounds. I need to put every pound I have into the ball to hit a home run or to drive it."

As long as pitchers pitch him away, Pedroia will probably be limited power-wise. They can’t do it every time, as Jared Burton shows above, but the strategy is sound. It doesn’t mean they can get him out any better, but it does help avoid the embarrassment of getting taking deep by the smallest guy in uniform. That might be the best anyone facing him can hope for.

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