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Dustin Pedroia has a foothold at the plate

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  July 19, 2011 02:59 PM

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There is no confusing Tom Brady and Dustin Pedroia. One throws footballs and the other fields grounds balls. One takes hits. The other delivers them. One has famous tresses and the other a receding hairline. One stands 6-feet, 4-inches tall. The other is listed at, ahem, 5-9. One appears in the pages of GQ and the other now goes by the dreggy sobriquet of "the muddy chicken."

But despite their differences, Brady and Pedey walk on common ground. They're both inveterate competitors. They're both league MVPs. They're both essential to their teams, and they both had screws surgically inserted into a broken foot after fracturing the navicular bone -- right foot for TB12 and left foot for Pedroia. That's why Pedroia's splendid performance for the Sox this season bodes well for autumn for both teams.

In case you haven't noticed, Pedroia is getting more hits than Google these days. He is hard-wired in at the plate, batting a ridiculous .410 with six homers this month. His OPS (on-base-plus-slugging) this month looks like a low introductory interest rate -- 1.289.

The Laser Show has never been brighter or better. The slugging second baseman is riding a 16-game hitting streak and a 28-game on-base streak. He drove in the winning run in the Sox' 16-inning marathon win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday night and then had a go-ahead two-run double to right field last night against Baltimore. He can tie his career-high on-base streak of 29 games, set during his MVP-season of 2008, tonight.

Don't bet against it.

Few players are as enjoyable to watch or seem to enjoy the game as much as Pedroia, who busts his butt in between the lines and busts chops in the clubhouse, whether you're manager Terry Francona or a media member.

He is a player with an inimitable style, all maximum effort and energy. It always looks like he's straining to reach first base with his throws. You wouldn't teach a Little Leaguer his swing, which often looks like he's trying to chop down a Douglas Fir with his eyes closed. But his production is a thing of beauty.

Pedroia's recent torrid stretch is simply Pedey being Pedey, which wasn't always a sure thing this season coming off the foot injury he suffered last year in June, when he fouled a ball off his foot in San Francisco. In retrospect, that basically marked the end of any shot the Sox had at making the playoffs last season, a sign of Pedroia's importance.

One of the questions about the Red Sox heading into spring training was whether Pedroia, who had surgery in September, would be the same player he was before the foot fracture. Ask Bill Walton how foot ailments can derail a promising career. In late January, Pedroia told WEEI.com he was still feeling some discomfort in the foot and a foreboding allusion to Yao Ming, whose career was ultimately ended by foot injuries, was made.

There was cause for concern after a slow start this season (.255 in April and .227 in May) and a couple of incidents where the foot went numb during games. But it's mid-July and the sweet-swinging Pedroia is currently the best hitter in baseball and has stolen 17 bases in 20 attempts for good measure.

Pedroia's podiatric status is an afterthought. That's good news for Brady, who had his foot operated on in January and will test it out in training camp at the end of the month with the NFL lockout nearing the end of days, thankfully.

These days when Pedoria and maladies are discussed, it is his right knee that is referenced, not his surgically-repaired left foot. Pedroia has been doing a bang-up job at the plate ever since he discovered that his right knee was bothering him due to a deep bruise and some displaced cartilage and not something more sinister or serious.

Pedroia departed the Sox' series in the Bronx against the Yankees on June 9 to have team medical director Dr. Thomas Gill take a look at his right knee. Gill reassured Pedroia, who was batting. 247 with four home runs at the time, that there was no serious structural damage.

Since June 10, the day he returned to the lineup, Pedroia has been hotter than Roy Halladay doing hot yoga in the Mojave. He is batting .379 with nine home runs in 32 games since.

The .379 average is the second-highest in the majors during that time period, trailing only Nick Markakis of the Orioles (.390). That's about the only major category the Sox' No. 2 hitter isn't No. 1 in since June 10. Since Knee Day, he leads major league baseball in on-base percentage (.471), slugging percentage (.697) and naturally OPS (1.168).

Of his 36 extra base hits this season, 23 have come after he had his knee examined, including nine homers. He has raised his average from .247 to .295 and is sporting what would be a career-high .401 on-base percentage. His single-season best is .380 during his AL Rookie of the Year-campaign in 2007.

But it's not just Pedroia's presence at the plate that assures you he is footloose and fancy-free. If you're a believer in UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) as a defensive metric -- full disclosure, I am not -- then Pedroia is as valuable with his glove as he is with his bat. According to Fangraphs.com, Pedroia has the fourth-best UZR of any defender at any position in baseball (11.2) and the best of any second baseman. That means Pedroia is going to save 11 more runs per season with his defense than an average second basemen.

With Gonzalez on his team, it's unlikely that Pedroia will win another MVP this season to join Brady as a two-time MVP winner. But after being underestimated early in his career, it's nearly impossible to underestimate the importance of Pedroia returning to form after the most serious injury of his career.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news


...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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