Everyone has heard the saying that declares you cannot predict baseball. It exists for a reason because, well, you can’t. Not that you can predict anything, but baseball has always been particularly wacky. Every year, every team has a wide range of potential outcomes heading into any given season. Right now, for example, we are seeing something pretty damn close to the worst possible end of the spectrum for the Red Sox. For teams to end up wherever it is they end up, it obviously comes down to how the players perform. Every player has a range of outcomes possible based on their true talent being combined with the noise and luck that comes along with baseball games, and where a roster of players finishes on their respective scales.
Of course, some players have a wider range than others. For this particular Red Sox team, perhaps no player had a wider range of possible outcomes than Dustin Pedroia. Not only did we really have no idea what to expect in terms of actual production but we weren’t really sure what to expect in terms of straight-up playing time. He was as close to a total unknown as someone with as much experience as he has can be.
As we all know, Pedroia is back with the Red Sox now. He missed the disastrous season-opening road trip, but had a very short rehab assignment and was able to get back in the lineup for the home opener last week. Dustin Pedroia at second base at Fenway. All is right with the world. The results, however, have not been good. He is, as of this writing prior to Tuesday’s game, hitting .105/.150/.105. Of course, this is also over just five games with 20 plate appearances under his belt. The results are not the issue here, as anything can happen over a five-game stretch.
Instead, what’s been incredibly frustrating from the outside is how he is being used. In these five games, he started the first three games at second base and then the next two serving as the team’s designated hitter. He has yet to play in the field on back-to-back days. That he’s slotted in as the DH in the last two games sends up some alarms, and those alarms start to blare when you see him as the designated hitter while Christian Vázquez plays second base. We knew heading into the year that his playing time was going to be manged. We’re talking about a 35-year-old who plays a position that breaks down players relatively quickly and who has played in 108 games over the previous two seasons. It’s smart to not rush him into things! It’s just that, well, it doesn’t have to happen here. That it is happening here is not maximizing this roster.
By “here,” I mean in Boston, because this isn’t how it had to go down. Pedroia played in just three games with Low-A Greenville before getting the call up to Boston. Given that he got a full spring training and his rehab assignment was so short, it was fair to expect that he was mostly ready to go. Again, some management of his playing time was to be expected, but they didn’t have to rush him back like this if he wasn’t close to ready for a full slate. That’s the most frustrating part of all of this. If he isn’t ready to play second base on back-to-back days and is going to have to DH a fair amount of the time, that’s fine! No one is expecting miracles here.
They had 30 days for him to serve his rehab in the minors, though. If you’re trying to work a guy back, that’s where you do it. Now, they are trying to manage him to get back to full strength while shuffling a short bench since they’re carrying an extra pitcher. They have Eduardo Núñez playing every day at second base, and even with him moving better than he was a year ago that’s not an ideal situation. As we saw, it only takes a minor injury or two for things to get all out of whack with Pedroia relegated to DH duties and the bench short. It’s hard to argue that they wouldn’t be better with Tzu-Wei Lin filling more of a utility role on the bench with Pedroia getting his work in in the minors.
A big part of me hates writing all of this, because when Pedroia has been in the field it’s been so great to watch. He’s not prime Pedroia any more, but he can still turn double plays with the best of them and covers a large amount of space. Even without the bat, he is a huge upgrade in the field. He’s just not ready to do it everyday yet. If the team was firing on all cylinders throughout the rest of the roster, then having him up figuring it out on the fly would be a lot easier to swallow. With the way things are going now and with the Red Sox needing to maximize every roster spot they have, this is simply not the best use of space.