Dustin Pedroia may have a tell. Last month, the Red Sox’ starting second baseman, folk hero, and possible troll appeared on WEEI’s ‘The Bradfo Show,’ producing this writeup on NESN:
Go ahead. Talk about this, that and the other thing. Dustin Pedroia doesn’t care.
Pedroia has earned four Gold Glove awards in his 10-year career, yet several defensive metrics pointed to 2015 as a down year from a fielding perspective. The Boston Red Sox second baseman is blocking out the chatter related to such in-depth analysis, though. He’s instead looking at the situation with a wider lens.
"Listen, I’ll go out there and my play will speak for itself," Pedroia recently told WEEI’s Rob Bradford on the "Bradfo Show" podcast. "I’m to a point where you kind of heard it all. You play in that market for a long time and you understand that one game you go 0-for-4 and you stink, and the next game you go 4-for-4 and you’re the best player ever.
"I was having my best year of my career (in 2015) until I got hurt. I don’t listen to any of what this says or what that says. Shoot, the year before I think it was one of the best defensive metrics for a second baseman. And the year after it was terrible? Come on."
It’s classic Pedroia: defiant, a little delusional, and a lot devious. I daresay it may be even a tad dishonest. First, I'm sure he know that statistics change from year to year, and only measure the performance of said year, so yeah: your stats changed, and your ranking changed too. Second, I also think he knows the stats were right, and it’s why, two weeks later, he told a gaggle of Red Sox reporters at Foxwoods that he wanted to ‘beat other teams 10 different ways,' to which end he appears to actually be getting into the best shape of his life, putting a snarling face on the annual spring training cliche. And why not? He has long been cliche come to life. This year is no different. With Pedroia, is it ever?
Still... it’s a little rich that the player who implied his defense was fine last year is explicitly focusing on movement and agility in an offseason after a season in which he explicitly focused on his power. I’m not concerned about his defense, but I’ll bet there was a nagging voice in the back of his head that nagged and told him that that step he had lost wasn’t imaginary. I bet it drove him up a wall. As this theory goes, the only reason he doesn’t want to hear about it now is he can’t go out there and prove us all wrong until spring, and the wait is killing him. He's always about the next game, not the last one.
That is Pedroia: forward-looking, impatient, brash. Much like another maniacally stubborn local sports hero from Northern California -- the one under center for the Patriots, with the four Super Bowl rings -- there is no reason to think that Pedey is in danger of forgetting professional slights, be they real or imagined, new or old. If Pedroia is something of a character, these grievances are his animating agitations, and like they are for Tom Brady, they are unstuck in time, untethered to what’s actually happening now. Their favorite title is always in the future, and their worst critic is always going all-in right now.
The comparison isn’t exact: Pedroia strikes me most not as Major League Baseball’s version of Brady, but of the irrepressible, electric wide receiver Steve Smith, in the way he dominates in ways he should not and almost literally cannot, given his stature. Similarly, there is a wealth of online literature that indicates, like Smith, Pedroia cannot imagine doing anything else other than beating peoples’ butts on the field, to the point that, like Smith, you could see him declare a final season before putting up great numbers, getting hurt, and taking it all back in the face of the void. He is the "almost’ in "almost literally cannot do it." He can't not do it.
For Pedroia (and Smith, and Brady), the drive has paid off. Even now, at age 32 and with plenty of room to grow, Pedey has put together an impressive enough body of work to rank as the Red Sox’ best second baseman of all-time. In a recent informal poll of Red Sox writers, Pedroia earned the top keystone spot for a hypothetical all-time Boston team; at the rate he’s is going, he ought to pass Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr’s 55 WAR early enough to put any real debate out of reach before he hangs it up.
There’s always a chance of a Nomar Garciaparra-like injury that could forever change the course of his career but Pedroia has a) Already had basically the same wrist injury and bounced back, and b) Has already nearly matched Nomar Garciaparra’s career WAR total for all teams, not just for the Sox. So yeah, he’s decent.
Also, he’s kind of nuts. The good kind.
You know that. So does he. That’s the subtext for one of my favorite anecdotes about Pedroia, from ‘The Signal and the Noise,’ when he literally big-times Nate Silver by telling him he can’t keep a prearranged interview at Fenway Park because he’s "getting ready for the big-league ballgame." It’s exquisite how directly he phrases his brushoff: You are not baseball, numbers dude, so you are not, ultimately, important. It’s reminiscent of Tom Verducci’s cheeky Sports Illustrated profile that described Pedroia watching, from his high-rise apartment across the street, for the first workers to arrive at Fenway as to be able to let him into the stadium, a situation which resembled nothing in the world as much as it does a classic Simpsons episode in which Lenny and Carl are watching for the Sunday sun to cross a noontime marker on the floor of Moe’s Tavern so that they can legally drink again:
Kelli and Dustin Pedroia and their cheeky two-year-old son, Dylan, live across the street from Fenway Park, and one reason why is clear from the view out their 13th-floor windows. Fenway in the quiet morn, before the sausages sizzle and the pilgrims parade in wearing the liturgical garments of Red Sox Nation, sits below them like an unopened Tiffany box, all neat, pristine corners and possibilities. The Pedroias can see the centerfield scoreboard and, through a crack in the asymmetrical grandstand, first base. They also can spy a large chain-link gate on wheels, which sometime in the middle of the day will be rolled open to Red Sox personnel for the symbolic start of the baseball business day.
Kelli will catch her little guy pulling the drapes aside and checking the status of the gate. Is it open? How about now? Now? "It's ridiculous," she says. "He paces until it's open. He's not calm until he's at the ballpark."
And at last when his surveillance is rewarded—the gates swinging open six, seven hours before the game is scheduled to begin—the little guy is happy, for he knows it is finally time to go out and play. He is out the door and across the street in no time.
Dustin Pedroia even takes Dylan with him sometimes.
(Heh. Because he’s short.)
The good thing for Pedroia, competitor, is that no matter how NFL-like his makeup and bravado, he plays baseball instead of football, which means he has a chance at a title after a down year. Flipping a two-decade-long script, MLB is now a bastion of parity, while the NFL is top-heavy, predictable and even, at times, boring. The Red Sox won the World Series three seasons ago and haven’t done squat since, but there’s every reason to think they could win it this year if things go right. With 10 playoff spots available, all you need to do is have the pieces to get there and follow through. The Red Sox have the first part, and Pedroia’s contract is a big part of that.
7 free agents the Red Sox should still be watching
As spring training draws closer and closer, here are some free agents the Red Sox should keep an eye on, just in case.
Of the big-name players they have signed, the Laser Show’s deal is by far the most reasonable. He’s the team’s sixth-highest paid player, behind two Davids who deserve it (Price and Ortiz) and three players for whom it’s currently laughable (Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval,and Rick Friggin’ Porcello -- though, with the way the pitching market is going, Porcello's could be a different kind of laughable with a strong 2016). Pedroia’s deal was a good one when he made it and it’s a good one now, for both the player and the team. It fits as well as he does, which is tough to do.
What doesn’t quite fit: Even with Pedroia’s friendly contract, the Red Sox end up with the No. 1 second base prospect in all of baseball in Yoan Moncada, but this seems to be a straightforward case of buying low on potentially superstar talent rather than a reason to get spooked on Pedroia’s status. Second base isn’t exactly the jewel of the infield, which means Moncada could play anywhere, and that’s before considering the fact Pedroia has a Derek Jeter-at-shortstop level hold on the position, with above-Jeter level defensive talent (it’s a not high bar, but Pedroia clears it easy). Barring an injury, we are far away from our days of Didi Gregorius, and praise be for that.
Mostly, though, praise be to Pedroia for just being him, and pretending not to hear the very criticism which he has already addressed. It’s a beautiful sleight of hand: He knows the problems before we do, works maniacally to fix them, and then scoffs when we ask about them, because what do we know of real work? He’s done it already, and he’s anxious to do it again soon. He plays the big-league ballgames, we don’t, and that’s all that matters. Neither age nor sleet nor snow nor tsunami can stop Pedroia, from doing so, and it helps me rest easy. The team goes as he does, and I'm ready for a regular-old season from Pedey: the good kind.