Friday, May 02, 2014

Health or decline phase for Pedroia?

Dustin Pedroia is in his ninth year of Major League Baseball. He has been a leader and an admirable player for the Boston Red Sox and has earned two World Series rings during that time. In his time in the Majors, his offense has been worth 104 runs, a very good total, and his defense has been fantastic garnering another 77 runs. He has also been a very good base runner to bring about the full package. And yet, there are signs of decline. And the question to be asked is if the decline is health related or age regression.
The story we heard is that Pedroia played all last year with a bad hand or wrist from an injury he suffered in one of the earliest games of the season. Despite the injury, he played 160 games and was a big part of the World Series run. The story we are told is that the injury led to only nine homers and was a limiting factor. This season, he again hurt his wrist early in the season and feared there was structural damage. But the doctors gave him good news and he got a cortisone shot and was back in business.
But he has no homers this year. And injury last season or this season notwithstanding, the fact remains that Dustin Pedroia's slugging percentage is down again this year for the fourth straight season starting with his peak of .493 in 2010. The decline has been steady: .493, .474, .449, .414 and this year, .342.  So again, is it health or is it natural decline?
Pedroia still brings a lot of other things to the table. His fielding is still elite. It is too early in the season to be much concerned with his UZR/150 being down from years past. Every time I see him play, he is diving to get to balls you don't think he should get to.
But he is not stealing bases like he did in the past. He has only tried three times and has been thrown out twice. Compare that to his career average of 19 steals a season with a 77+% success rate.
We have only gone through one month of the season. So it is not overly concerning that Pedroia is only hitting in the .270 range. His BABIP of .300 doesn't show a lot of bad luck but it is down from his career BABIP of .313. But there is a disturbing trend in his batted ball rates.
Pedroia is hitting ground balls at an unprecedented rate for him. He has a career ground ball to fly ball ratio of 1.28. Last year that rose to 1.83 and this year is very high at 2.45. Taking last year and this year into account, more than 50% of his batted balls have been on the ground, a new wrinkle on his career and way higher than in his earlier years.
It's still early in the season, so there is not a lot of panic involved in Dustin Pedroia's wOBA only being .305. But the signs of decline are there and we have seen other second basemen peak early and decline fast. It is worth keeping an eye on Pedroia as the season progresses.

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