Predicting Pedro: The Bad News, The Good News, and The No News

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pedroia, originally uploaded by eürodäna.

It’s the request hour here at wicked clevah, so by all means, let’s chat about Dustin Pedroia.

He’s slumping, but you all knew that. Players get rested for lots of reasons, but in his case the explanation wasn’t all that complicated: he can’t buy a hit (or worse, a walk) at the moment.

For not the first time, of course. Last season famously saw Pedroia stumble out of the gate to a .182/.308/.236 line in April. By his own admission, something had to change. And fortunately for everyone, the little guy included, it did. His lowest OBP by month after April was September, at .330. His lowest average a .299 showing in July.

In spite of the highly forgettable April, his first half showing was .318/.400/.450, slightly better than his second half of .317/.362/.435.

That was then, this (.260/.311/.365) is now.

After a very Pedroia-like April of .306/.352/.423, he slumped though May (.260/.295/.374). And June? Well, words don’t really convey the depth of the problem so I’ll just leave you with his performance thus far: .097/.256/.129. That’s right: if he doesn’t turn things around shortly, June will be a worse month – a significantly worse month – than April of ’07.

Which we can all undoubtedly do without.

Supporters are likely to then jump to his defense by touting his, well, defense. Which makes sense, because I, like presumably most of you, am under the impression that he’s a top notch defender at second. Which he may well be. But not according to any of the rudimentary defensive metrics I have available to me. His best showing is in Zone Rating, where he places fourth amongst AL second basemen behind Ellis, Cano and Grudzielanek – all of whom enjoy reasonable reputations for their defense. In Range Factor, however, he’s 7th, along with 8th in Fielding Percentage. Just amongst the AL candidates, mind.

All of which ultimately proves nothing, but has to be considered, particularly in light of his reduced offensive value.

Zach Hayes over at Fire Brand posed the question a week ago: will Dustin Pedroia have a second-year downfall? He argues that so far the answer is yes, and I can’t really argue the point.

But that question is of far less importance, I think, then this one: what can we expect from Pedroia going forward in ’08? Is Pedroia destined to be the next Hinske, a one-time ROY exposed over time as a marginal major leaguer?

Obviously, I don’t have the foggiest: predictions are not my gig. I’m concerned, of course. Not because not because of the slump, precisely, but rather the lack of an adequate – or any, really – explanation for the slump. Yes, he’s been victimzed by the men in blue, who among other offenses robbed him of a home run (replay can’t get here fast enough). And a couple of stellar defensive efforts – Upton’s catch, in particular – haven’t helped. But neither of those conditions, nor the fact that he was the only regular not to get any time off until June, can be held responsible for his post-April line.

It is indeed possible that we’re seeing the beginning of a permanent decline in his performance, as one of the MVN commenters argued.

But I personally don’t buy that, for three reasons.

First: history’s on his side. His college and minor league track records predicted the success he had last season, just as they predicted to the front office the transition to the majors would be challenging. That history didn’t predict the current trend, that I’m aware of, but neither do they preclude it: we are talking, after all, about a relatively small sample size.

Second: I’ve heard nothing to suggest that pitchers have discovered and are actively exploiting a fatal flaw. No one would make the claim that his swing is optimal, particularly for a player of his size, but from the games I’ve seen he’s getting himself out as much as the pitchers are. Were he consistently going down to a particular pitch, pitch sequence, or pitch location, I’d be more pessismistic, but the data doesn’t demonstrate that. As nearly as I can determine, he’s getting himself out on pitches all over the strike zone. Which makes the problem harder to fix, but less likely to be an intrinsic limitation.

Third: None of the numbers guys saw this coming, and I mean none of them. The lowest OBP any of Bill James, CHONE, Marcel, MINER, PECOTA, or ZiPS predicted for ’08 was Miner at .355. Three of the five had him at .369 or better. The lowest average? ZiPS at .292. Three of the five were .299 or above. In its diagnostics, in fact, BP’s PECOTA assigned the following probabilities to potential outcomes:

  • Breakout Rate: 21%
  • Improve Rate: 58%
  • Collapse Rate: 11%
  • Attrition Rate: 7%

Obviously, predictions are as much art as science, but I don’t like the odds that all of the math geeks are wrong. A few of them, sure, but not all.

Last: There’s lady luck. You’ll recall that I more or less dimissed its importance when discussing, as an example, some of the defensive plays made against Pedroia above. I stand by that, because they’re not a sufficient explanation for his performance to date. But it is true that he’s been unlucky with his batting average on balls put in play thus far at .278 (.290 is average). Last season he clearly overachieved in that regard at .334, but .278 is definitely unlucky. Meaning that it should correct itself over the course of the year, manifesting itself as a small but potentially useful bump in his overall offensive output.

The Net:
If you came here looking for proof that we’re not in the midst of a season long sophomore slump, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But neither am I willing to write him off as a one year wonder; it’s not just what he did last year, it’s what his entire history says he should do. What the numbers confirm he should do.

We just have to hope that he starts doing that sooner rather than later.

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6 thoughts on “Predicting Pedro: The Bad News, The Good News, and The No News

  1. I completely agree. Pedroia's track record doesn't warrant this kind of doom and gloom yet. I have often heard that it is impossible to truly quantify a player's major league success until three full years have gone by. Keeping that in mind, he hasn't even cracked one and a half. Theoretically, let's say he finishes the year with a similar cumulative line than he has now. Does that warrant moving on next year? No, of course not. He'd start again next year. After next year, I think we'll have a solid base to really draw conclusions.

    But it's June of year 2. I have a feeling this will be a moot point in October of year 3.

  2. indeed. Theo and the gang preached patience last spring, and to their credit Francona and the coaching staff bought in, for which we were all rewarded.

    two months of poor ABs is not enough to convince me that the previous seven months' were a fluke.

  3. Now please write about Jacoby to see if you can inspire a similar turnaround — you're like the reverse of the ESPN magazine curse…

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