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Dustin Pedroia and the Battle of Time

Can Pedroia win? Well no, he’s not playing until he’s 80. But when is it curtains for Pedey?

Divisional Round - Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox - Game Three
Dustin Pedroia. You know who he is.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

If you have yet to respond to our FanPost Friday prompt, now would be a good time to do so! Starting this week I’ll be writing my response before the flyby, because I often find I want to write a lot more than I end up putting out there for editing.

Who is Dustin Pedroia?

Dustin Pedroia is a 34 year-old second baseman, from Woodland, California. Dustin Pedroia is 5’9”. He’s also the Red Sox best second baseman, and their longest tenured player.

Pedroia was drafted by the Red Sox in the second round back in 2004. There were a lot of great names taken ahead of him, like Hunter Pence, Justin Verlander, and Jered Weaver, yet beyond Verlander no one from the 2004 draft class has been worth more bWAR or fWAR or whatever WAR you wish to use than Pedroia.

He debuted at the major league level in 2006, with inauspicious results, hitting .191/.258/.303, and providing little value defensively. There were definitely fans calling for the head of then-manager Terry Francona for sticking with Pedroia, and continuing to put him into games. There were Pedroia believers, but they were few and far in between, and when you think about it, it’s not hard to remember that there were serious black marks against him as a player.

Houston Astros v Chicago White Sox
Despite early worries about his success as a ball player, Pedroia has only been arguably outplayed by Justin Verlander from his draft class.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

But in spite of those black marks, there was definitely a good ball player inside. It’s easy to say this with hindsight, but diving back, we get both a snapshot of Pedroia as a player, and how far sabermetrics have come since 2006.

The signs where there as to the type of player he could be: he was really good at making contact in general. Even in that season where he was below the Mendoza line, Pedroia’s contact rates were legendary. In the 31 games he played in 2006, his contact rate on all pitches (inside and outside of the zone) came in at 90.3%. This season, 2018, with around 27ish games played per team, sees only three players above the 90% mark thus far. Joe Panik, Ketel Marte, and Jose Ramirez. All three of these players have their respective black marks as well, but none of them (unlike Pedroia) are rookies.

The rest of Pedroia’s career in Boston to this point, as you might be want to say, is history. For his career, through the first 12 years, he’s hit .300/.366/.441, with 140 home runs, and 138 stolen bases. He’s a fringe Hall of Fame case, one that probably leans more towards the side of missing out than getting in, but there’s sure to be some debate and he’ll stick on the ballot for a couple of years.

You might think that statement to be a bit hyperbolic (or if you are a homer, blasphemy), but Pedroia measures up fairly well with second basemen from the live ball era. According to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s website, there are 21 players classified as second basemen in the Hall of Fame, at least partially. According to fWAR, Dustin Pedroia is the 20th best second baseman of the Live Ball era, with a chance to climb a little bit further up the list given that he’s still active and only 34 years-old.

With Pedroia’s legacy established, and his high rate of play noted, now is the time to acknowledge that father time eventually catches up with all of us. Since his age-30 season in 2014 he’s averaged 122 games per season, and if he stays healthy upon his return this year that trend will continue into 2018. When he does play, he seems to be his typical world-beating self, with only his power being sapped as time continues, but when will the contact go? When will the glove go?

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  v Kansas City Royals
Ian Kinsler is most closely tied to Dustin Pedroia among active players. They play the same position, have similar play styles, and have had similar success.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

For the time being, when Pedroia returns from rehab (he has just begun playing in rehab games), he’s unquestionably the starting second baseman. He’s earned that with his play over the past decade plus. He also has four years, and $56 million left on his contract, which is an awful lot to pay a player not playing every day.

For 2018, it’s clear, Dustin Pedroia is starting, end of discussion. It’s when you get into 2019, 2020, and 2021, the remainder of Pedroia’s contract where he’s in theoretical decline that the question gets tougher. Who is the future, going forward?

In my opinion, you play Pedroia until he proves he can’t play. If that means taking a bit of a hit at second base, then you take a bit of a hit. The offense around Pedroia over the next two or three years should be good enough that you can take even a below average Pedroia, and still win, without having to invest in a new player to take over at second base.

With that said, the upcoming free agent class could be interesting if Pedroia starts to struggle. There are plenty of big names in the theoretical market, headlined by Brian Dozier. I don’t know if Dozier should be a target of ours, with Pedroia still having three years left starting with the off-season and given what Dozier’s contractual demands are sure to be. But you know people will clamor for him.

Cincinnati Reds v Minnesota Twins
For fans of the “buy everything and everyone” style of GM’ing, there are probably a lot of hopes pinned on Dombrowski finding a way to bring in Brian Dozier.
Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Dustin Pedroia always seems to be battered, but he continues to fight, and has eked out an extremely positive career in Boston, despite his gritty die-for-the-infield-grounders-slide-into-first-base attitude and play-style. Or maybe it’s not in spite of those things, but because of it.

In either case, he’s the guy for 2018, and his return could mark a new beginning for a Red Sox offense that has had some struggles in recent days.