Welcome to Over the Monster’s One Big Question series. For those unfamiliar, this is something of a season roster preview where over the next 40(ish) (week)days we’ll be taking a look at each player on the 40-man roster prior to the season. If changes are made to the roster between now and Opening Day, we’ll cover the newly added players. Rather than previewing what to expect in a general sense, the goal of this series is to find one overarching question for each player heading into the coming season. We’ll go one-by-one alphabetically straight down the roster, and today we talk about Dustin Pedroia.
The Question: Can Dustin Pedroia be something close to his old self defensively?
Everything in baseball is inherently an unknown, at least when we’re trying to project what is going to happen. There’s a reason every time something moderately strange happens you hear someone say “you just can’t predict baseball.” It’s one of those old adages that rings true almost all the time, even if it might be said just a little too often. That being said, there is one player on the Red Sox who is even more unknown than the rest of the roster. I speak, of course, of Dustin Pedroia. It feels like it’s been forever since we’ve really seen the former American League MVP in action, mostly because it has been. The veteran missed essentially all of last season after missing a significant chunk of the year in 2017 as well. Once upon a time, Pedroia was one of the players on any given Red Sox roster on whom you could count on for a solid baseline of production. Heading into 2019, though, that’s certainly not the case.
There’s been a lot written and discussed this winter regarding just how little we know about Pedroia right now, with most of the questions simply wondering how much he’ll be able to play. That is, of course, an important question, but also one I couldn’t begin to speculate on. I don’t have access to Pedroia’s medical reports, and even if I did what the hell would I do with that information. I am not, believe it or not, a doctor. Beyond the simple playing time questions, there are questions about what he’ll do at the plate. That is also a good question, and one that is a little easier, but still extremely difficult, to predict.
Granted, Pedroia’s offense is certainly not a non-factor. At his best, he was clearly a key part of Boston’s lineup hitting at the top. He can be an on-base machine who makes good decisions on the bases and can provide pop when needed. Having another guy getting on base and lengthening a lineup that was somewhat top-heavy in 2018 would be no small feat. That being said, the Red Sox offense is not a major worry this year. There is still plenty of star power, and there is reason for optimism for guys like Rafael Devers and Jackie Bradley Jr. as well. You don’t want any black holes in the lineup, of course, but Boston can get by even if Pedroia isn’t his peak self with the bat.
It’s also not something I am overly concerned about, or at least I don’t think his results at the plate are the most important portion of his comeback attempt. Instead, what piques my interest the most is what he’ll be able to do in the field. In his prime, as we all know, Pedroia was one of if not the best defensive second basemen in all of baseball. He provided massive amounts of value out there, and it became such a staple of the Red Sox team that many of us probably started taking it for granted. I know I sure as hell did.
Then, of course, injuries started to pick up and we haven’t had him in the field for quite some time. It’s a tricky injury, too, because it involves his legs. Pedroia has never been a big-time burner on the bases, but mobility is a big part of his game. Coming off a major knee injury that has required a few different treatments calls into question how much of his mobility he’ll be able to maintain. Pedroia did a lot of things well defensively in his prime, but what was always most startling to me was just how much ground he covered in the middle infield. It seemed anything to the right side of the infield was liable to be scooped up by the four-time Gold Glove winner. If the knee affects his mobility, it’s fair to wonder how close to his old self he’ll be out there.
If Pedroia can be a major factor defensively, that’s obviously a huge boost for the Red Sox. Remember, for as great as this team is and as astoundingly elite their outfield defense is, there are real questions on the infield. I believe Rafael Devers is much better than he showed last year and that his issues largely came down to inexperience more than a lack of tools. Still, even at his best he’s probably something a little below-average at the hot corner. Xander Bogaerts is more than passable at shortstop, but again he is not going to be a plus at the position. Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce should be solid presences at first base, but despite the former’s reputation I’m not sure either are game-changers at the position.
Pedroia has a chance to lift up the entire group, and perhaps more than anything else a return to his old defense at the keystone position would be the biggest upgrade from last year. Yes, Ian Kinsler spent a couple of months there and eventually took home the Gold Glove, but most of the season was spent with either Eduardo Núñez or Brock Holt at second base. Núñez was almost unbelievably bad there, and I use unbelievably quite literally in this situation. Sometimes I did not believe my eyes. Holt was much better than that, but he still is an average second baseman at best. If Pedroia gets back to being elite, it’s a huge boost at one of the most important positions at the field.
Nobody really knows what to expect from the veteran second baseman in any area this season. We can’t predict baseball in any instance, but it’s particularly difficult with respect to someone who has missed as much time as Pedroia. The offense is going to be interesting to watch, but the defense seems to me to be a more important question that needs to be answered. The entire infield changes depending on the caliber of glovework he shows. We won’t learn much from spring training, but when Pedroia does get in games I know I’ll be keeping an eye out to see how he’s moving around.