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Will 2015 Be the Year Dustin Pedroia Bounces Back?

Dustin Pedroia's performance at the plate has fallen off rather steeply the past two years. If you want to know whether he'll bounce back, just watch his hands.Carlos Osorio/AP

Chief among spring training prognostications regarding the Red Sox is that they will hit and hit and then hit some more. The import of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, as well as the now sleep apnea-free Mike Napoli, the emergence of Mookie Betts and the continued presence of David Ortiz, should be more than enough to provide the Sox with one of the most formidable lineups in the majors and an offense well equipped to offset some rather glaring issues on the pitching staff.

Somewhat lost in the anticipation of the Sox submitting a big season at the plate is Dustin Pedroia, the veteran second baseman and No. 2 hitter. Pedroia has flown under the radar this spring with so much attention being paid to Betts’s breakout, Shane Victorino’s commentary, Ortiz’s foray into sports writing and the injury to Christian Vazquez.

Pedroia’s performance at the plate took a hit in each of the past two seasons most likely due to early-season injuries -- his thumb on Opening Day in 2013, and his wrist in the first week of 2014. The 2007 American League Rookie of the Year and 2008 AL MVP cratered along with the rest of his teammates last year, posting some of the worst numbers of his career in both standard (.278 average, seven homers, .713 OPS) and advanced (4.2 WAR, 99 wRC+, 12.3 strikeout percentage, -1.7 offensive rating) categories. He hit just .240 with runners in scoring position, 49 points less than his career average.

Pedroia is a deservedly respected, long-tenured veteran who would have to slump a lot harder and for a lot longer to have his spot in the lineup usurped. Even amidst his struggles, he still batted third for most of 2013 and all the Red Sox did was win the World Series, proving they can be fully functional offensively even without Pedroia in peak form. He’ll remain in the 2-hole unless something completely crazy -- like him dropping into the .230s while someone like Xander Bogaerts or even Rusney Castillo (if he makes the team) -- simultaneously turns into a .300-hitter.

But suppose he does recapture his old form. Say Pedroia’s the kind of guy who gets better with age (he’s now 31) as opposed to worse. Fangraphs has some hope for Pedroia, penciling him in for a projected OPS of .744 and a 4.3 WAR, behind only Robinson Cano, Anthony Rendon and Ben Zobrist in that category among both leagues’ second basemen (it should be noted that of those three, Cano is the only one who plays the position regularly).

Both numbers are down a fair amount from Pedroia’s career crests, the WAR projection clocking in at only one-tenth of a point higher than what he produced last season. But if Betts really does break out the way so many seem to think he will and Ramirez, Sandoval and Ortiz even approach their career averages, Pedroia won’t be under that much pressure to come close to replicating, say, his 2011 stats.

Some promising signs have emerged this spring, with Pedroia batting a healthy .303 in 33 at-bats. But his power numbers, which have plummeted the past two years, are still on the relatively meager side despite no visible problems with his surgically repaired left thumb and wrist. Of his 10 hits, just two have been for extra bases (one homer) and while that’s by no means a legit sample size, it indeed speaks to the trend that’s befallen Pedroia since the start of 2013.

Luckily for the Sox, the cavalcade of limp bats that overwhelmed their lineup last season are mostly gone. Even if Sandoval and Ramirez and Napoli and Ortiz underachieve somewhat, the team can still afford a less productive Pedroia, as opposed to last year when his struggles appeared in sharper focus alongside the likes of A.J. Pierzynski, Stephen Drew, Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr. Coming in somewhere around those Fangraphs projections and staying on the field as consistently as he always does, health be damned, should be enough.

So expect another 150 or so games played and the usual Gold Glove caliber defense from Dustin Pedroia. Beyond that, it’s tough to say.

The most accurate tool for predicting?

Just watch his hands on every head-first slide throughout next week. They could wind up telling us all we need to know.

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