At this point it is certainly no secret that Dustin Pedroia has watched his production fall off swiftly in the power department. Since the start of the 2010 season, his Isolated Power has fallen from .205 to .167 to .160 to .114 to .098. The second baseman has blamed the decline on injuries, saying when he finally gets a full, healthy season under his belt he’ll be able to hit the ball like he used to. I have been one of the bigger skeptics of this argument, finding it hard to believe that injuries caused four straight years of decline and a clean bill of health would bring the numbers back so easily.
Well, the season’s only just begun, but thus far Pedroia is looking more like his old self than I ever would have expected. He has 63 plate appearances under his belt and he’s knocked three home runs and three doubles, giving him a vintage .222 ISO. Of course, the small sample size caveats still exist and I can’t say he’s completely changed my opinion on whether this power outburst is for real, but there are certainly signs that point towards it sticking around.
The first thing I’ve noticed in Pedroia’s early-season numbers has been his approach at the plate. He’s been even more patient than usual this season, with a 38 percent swing rate, per Baseball Prospectus. His career rate sits at 42 percent. More importantly, he’s not swinging at pitches out of the zone. After swinging at roughly 28 percent of non-strikes in each of the last two seasons, Pedroia has brought that number down to 24 percent so far in 2015. When he is swinging at these pitches, he’s making very little contact, with that rate down to 61 percent from a career average of 83 percent. That last number will come up at some point, but for now it’s going a long way towards limiting the weak contact that’s plagued him over the last few years.
The other thing I’ve noticed is the pitches that Pedroia has been able to do damage on. Think back to the beginning of the 31-year-old’s career and picture one of his home runs from his mid-twenties. You see the little man with the huge swing lift one up and over the monster. Where was the pitch? More likely than not, it was high and tight, seemingly at his eyeballs. When he’s at his best, he crushes that pitch.
Here we see his zone plot from last season with Isolated Power shown for each spot. There’s clearly more activity up-and-in than in other spots in the zone, but the numbers still aren’t anything too crazy. Compare that to his zone plot from 2010, the first year in the illustration of his decline from above.
There you see legitimate big-time power numbers from the up-and-in part of the zone. This is when Pedroia is truly in his comfort zone. Now, check out what the zone plot looks like so far in 2015.
Right now, just one part of that zone is being punished, but it’s still early, and it’s a spot from which he wasn’t doing damage when times were bad. Looking at his three home runs will help illustrate this point as well.
His first two home runs came in the first game of the season in Philadelphia. The first one was probably a pitch that he’s do damage to in any season. Cole Hamels just completely missed his spot and left one belt-high on the inside part of the plate. Pedroia will always punish those mistakes.
The next two really show what I was talking about with the zone plots, though. Later in that game, with Hamels still on the mound, the pitcher tried to sneak a high-and-tight fastball by Pedroia. He wasn’t having it, and he struck it into the left field seats.
The third homer came on a similar pitch, this one off of Stephen Strasburg at Fenway. Once again, the pitcher dared Pedroia to hit a pitch in his old wheelhouse, and once again the second baseman made the pitcher look silly. It wasn’t the longest home run of his career, but it made it over the fence and counted the same as a 500 foot bomb.
So, there are plenty of signs pointing towards Pedroia fighting his way out of his power rut. Unfortunately, there are a few other negative signs as well. First and foremost, he hasn’t really been hitting the ball any further than last season, with an average fly ball distance of 278 feet. The good thing is that both seasons saw larger average fly ball distances than 2013, when it was a measly 262. On top of that, he is hitting a lot of balls on the ground right now. His ground ball rate, per Fangraphs, is close to 57 percent. There’s no reason to take early-season batted ball numbers too seriously, but it’s certainly not something that will help his power numbers.
With it being April 22, it’s definitely too early to declare whether or not Pedroia’s power stroke is really back for good. However, it’s not too early to say that many signs are pointing towards it staying, with a few pointing towards it being a mirage. He’s been hitting the high-and-inside pitches much harder than he did in the last few years, which is a huge step in the right direction. He’s also not swinging at pitches out of the zone right now. Only time will tell if it’s here to stay, but it’s been fun to watch some vintage Pedroia swings in the first few weeks of the year.