Much like the Red Sox's season as a whole, Dustin Pedroia's 2015 ended largely in disappointment. Hampered by poor health in recent years, Pedroia again had issues avoiding the DL and suffered from the type of nagging injuries that continue to hinder his overall output. Pedroia played in just 93 games this past season, his fewest since 2010, with a hamstring strain that kept him out nearly three months serving as the main culprit.
When he was on the field, moreover, Pedroia endured a dip in his production with the glove. Long one of the best-fielding second baseman in baseball, the 32-year-old saw his defensive numbers fall back down to a league-average level. While single-season fielding metrics can prove misleading, Pedroia posted a negative Defensive Runs Saved total (-3) for the first time in his career.
However, Pedroia's performance with the bat should give the Red Sox some room for optimism. After a series of wrist injuries sapped much of his power in recent years, Pedroia recorded his best offensive campaign since at least 2012 last season. The 10-year veteran batted .291/.356/.441 with 12 home runs and a 116 wRC+ over 425 plate appearances.
Most encouragingly, following offseason wrist surgery, Pedroia saw much of his power return. After posting subpar slugging percentages of .415 in 2013 and .376 in 2014, the second baseman compiled a slugging mark of .441 this past year, his highest since the 2012 campaign. His .150 ISO was also his best in three years, with Pedroia showing an improved ability to turn on pitches and drive them to left field.
As this spray chart (courtesy of Baseball Savant) of his ball-in-play results between 2013 and 2014 demonstrates, Pedroia hit a majority of his balls in the air to center or right field:
For someone like Pedroia, who has long taken advantage of the green monster and has above-average pull power for a second baseman, these results weren't exactly a recipe for great slugging success.
But beginning on Opening Day, when Pedroia launched two home runs to left field in Philadelphia, he showed a better capacity for pulling the ball with more authority:
Pedroia hit all 12 of his home runs to left field in 2015 and more closely resembled the type of power threat he'd been during his prime years in Boston. Furthermore, he displayed a knack for turning on inside pitches that had been lacking during his subpar seasons at the plate in 2013 and 2014.
Just about all of Pedroia's power came against pitches on the inner third of the strike zone, as this zone chart from Brooks Baseball of his slugging percentage over this past season shows:
Without reading too much into Pedroia's health, it's clear, given his performance against inside offerings and improved ability to drive the ball, that the wrist injuries which previously handicapped his production were far less of a factor last season. For a player who has long punished mistakes on the inner half, the reemergence of his pull power bodes well for his outlook at the plate moving forward.
Still, Pedroia's health will remain the biggest impediment to his on-field success in the years ahead. His strong output with the bat in 2015 demonstrated Pedroia can still be a valuable contributor when healthy, but he simply hasn't played enough games the past few years to make a consistent impact. That Boston is planning to give Pedroia more days off next season makes perfect sense, especially considering how quickly second baseman have traditionally seen their performances decline as they age into their thirties.
Luckily for the Red Sox, they don't need Pedroia to replicate the production of his prime years. With the emergence of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and other youngsters -- not to mention the continued presence of David Ortiz -- oston is no longer dependent on Pedroia to put up MVP-like numbers. That he still has plenty left offensively is encouraging for a club that finished fourth in MLB in runs scored last season despite Pedroia missing much of the season due to injury.
And even if Pedroia's ability with the glove and on the bases has diminished, the return of that above-average power means he can still provide solid value to the Red Sox. After all, his 116 wRC+ ranked seventh among all second baseman in 2015 (min. 400 plate appearances), tied with long-time nemesis Robinson Cano. Given how much more money Cano is owed than Pedroia over the next few seasons, it's clear Boston is still benefiting from their long-time second baseman's production.
No, Pedroia isn't the stellar all-around performer that he used to be. But he remains a player who will continue to deliver for the Red Sox as long as he stays healthy. If Pedroia hits for power again in 2016, and Boston can coax better health out of him, he'll be a valuable player yet again.