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Can Mookie Betts save Dustin Pedroia (from himself)?

Dustin Pedroia's numbers have been trending downward these last few years. What can Mookie Betts do to help him reverse course?

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

It's no secret that Dustin Pedroia just hasn't been himself at the plate of late. If you've set your standards high based on the heydays of 2008, 2010, and 2011, you can date this slump back as far as 2012, when Pedroia hit .290/.347/.449 for the Red Sox in a season that went wrong just about every way it could. But even the most lenient of judges can't look past a 2014 campaign which saw the four-time All-Star hit .278/.337/.376 in 609 plate appearances. It was somehow still an above-average year in this league, but by the slimmest of margins, with Pedroia coming in at just a 101 OPS+.

Obviously, Dustin Pedroia is worth quite a bit more than his bat. Amazingly, he's been worth some 16.5 rWAR these past three years despite his diminished offense, so superlative is his glove at a relatively high-value defensive position. With Pedroia having signed such a team friendly deal not two years past, the Sox have little reason to complain about their second baseman.

Still, if the Red Sox, their fans, and Dustin Pedroia himself had it their way, 2015 would see a return of the man who outhit  even Robinson Cano in 2011. For that to happen, though, Pedroia has to be healthy, and that's proven no small thing. On May 28, 2012, Dustin Pedroia tore a muscle in his thumb, and valiantly (but perhaps foolishly) attempted to play through the injury to bail out a Red Sox team that, at the time, was struggling desperately to stay above water. The result was a .587 OPS from the start of June to July 3rd, when he finally hit the disabled list. Before that injury, he had been hitting .295/.350/.450. After going on the disabled list, he managed .318/.372/.508.

On Opening Day in 2013, Pedroia once again saw his competitive nature get the best of him, as an ill-advised headfirst slide into first cost him a torn UCL. Nonetheless, he missed all of two games that season as the Red Sox made their way to the World Series, but his numbers were obviously diminished as a result.

The details on 2014's injury are rather less precise, but we do know that they finally ended in surgery, with Pedroia missing out on most of the last  month of a lost season.

Photo Credit -- Kim Klement

The hope is that the surgery will mean no more problems for Pedroia, and that everything will be back to pre-2012 levels for the second baseman. But there are no guarantees, and it's too easy to imagine another season that sees Pedroia suffer some early knock and, in attempting to play through it, make the situation worse not only for himself, but the team as a whole. It's that sort of fire that has so endeared him to the fans, but at times his inability to take a step back when the situation has called for it has proven his downfall.

So what could make 2015 different? Mookie Betts. Or rather, not just Mookie Betts, but Mookie Betts and the outfield situation as a whole. As it stands, the Red Sox have a ridiculously crowded outfield. If Mookie Betts is playing, that means one of Shane Victorino or Rusney Castillo is not. There are three obvious starter-quality players for two positions, and while it's not all that hard to establish a rotation that sees all three receive ample playing time, it should be noted that there's another potential outlet for that pressure at second base, where up until just recently Mookie Betts had spent his career as an above-average defender.

It's probably not the best idea to have Betts on day-to-day backup duty for second base. Shifting him back to second is not at all the same as shifting Xander Bogaerts to third in 2014 given that second is likely still the position where Betts is most comfortable, but consistency is likely still the goal here. However, should Pedroia find himself in a situation where he's clearly not playing close to 100% and desperately needs a trip to the disabled list to turn things around, ala 2012, it has to be clear that the choice is not between Dustin Pedroia and Brock Holt who, for all his moments of glory in 2014, is much more of a utility player than a starter.

Instead, it's between Dustin Pedroia and Mookie Betts. Or, rather, Dustin Pedroia and that fourth outfielder on any given day. Whoever would otherwise be on the outside looking in. That's not such a steep dropoff.

Of course, this is all assuming the Red Sox start the year with Shane Victorino still in Boston. It's also a reason why they should do what they can to keep him around for the final year on his contract rather than dumping him to the first team who offers up a bag of balls, even if it means selling low on someone like Allen Craig.

It's also assuming that Dustin Pedroia is actually able to take that step back when the situation calls for it. His managers throughout the years have all made the jokes at one time or another about what they'd have to do to get Pedroia to accept being left out of the lineup on any given day, but even if the second baseman sees it as doing everything he can for the team, he does need to realize that sometimes the best thing he can do is take a break and come back playing at his highest level. 5 months of healthy Pedroia are better than three months of healthy Pedroia and three months of 2014 Pedroia, for instance.

Ideally, these are situations that never come up, with Pedroia and the rest all just staying healthy throughout with no need for positional switch-ups. But that's not going to happen. That never happens. And if Pedroia once again finds himself among the wounded, hopefully having someone like Mookie Betts as his backup will let him step away until he gets right again.