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Dustin Pedroia: Still Very Good

Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe wrote a Dustin Pedroia update yesterday on his Extra Bases blog detailing the second baseman’s performance drop-off in 2011, explaining that it’s likely due to lingering injury nags. He mentions the increased strikeouts, the lack of batting average and how Pedroia hits for no power at all anymore. It was an informative reminder of how Pedroia’s game has changed thus far in 2011.


I take issue with one characterization of Abraham’s, though. After running through Pedroia’s problems at the plate, we get this from Abraham:

Pedroia is an adequate player as is. He fields his position well, he's capable of a big hit and he can steal a base.


Maybe Abraham’s falling into the trap of placing too much weight in batting average. Maybe he is focusing too much attention on the things Pedroia has not been doing instead of everything he does well. It may just be that his wording doesn't match up to how he actually thinks about Pedroia's play. Whatever the case, Pedroia has been much better than "adequate" in 2011 and it’s a testament to just how great a player he is given that Abraham’s larger point, that Pedroia’s off his game a bit, remains.

It's really difficult to explain some of the changes in Pedroia's offensive game this season, but just know they're drastic. A career .299 hitter, he's hitting just .247 in 2011. He's struck out in just 9.2% of his plate appearances for his career, but this season that's skyrocketed to 16.9%. He has a career Isolated Slugging Percentage (ISO) of .150 but this year it's just .091. That's all the bad news. The good news, the reason he's still an effective offense player, is that his walk rate is also up. It's 10.6% for his career but 14.9% this season. His 101 wRC+ (weighted Runs Created plus) ranks sixth among qualified American League second basemen and his .361 on-base ranks second.

The wRC+ figure is interesting because it contextualizes his performance, and in 2011, the goalposts have moved a bit with respect to context. Since it's adjusted for both park and league, a 100 wRC+ translates to a dead average offensive performer. North of 100 equates to above average and south of it below. It's hard to fathom a player with a .699 OPS translating to an above average hitter but when that .699 is an on-base heavy .699 and the run scoring environment is suppressed, that's what happens. Without even adjusting for Pedroia's far-right defensive spectrum position, Pedroia ranks as above average at the plate.

There are two other components to a position player's game, too, and Pedroia excels at both. He's a terrific defender and baserunner. While emphasizing short-term defensive statistics can be a mistake, I tend to place a bit more stock in them when it confirms what my eyes are telling me. Pedroia has looked great with the glove this season and sure enough, he ranks up there with the best second basemen according to Ultimate Zone Rating. As for his baserunning, the statistics bear out what many observe when characterizing Pedroia as an intelligent, hustling player. He ranks among the best in baseball once on the base paths.

Add it all up and, among second basemen, Pedroia ranks fourth in the American League in Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and second  in the AL in B-Ref WAR. My problem with Abraham here probably amounts to little more than semantics since I know Abraham understands the value of on-base, defense and baserunning. It's an opportune time, though, to point out the larger story to Pedroia's 2011: he's managed to remain an excellent player while he struggles to make solid, consistent contact.