Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (May 15, 2018 – Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America)
The Boston Red Sox currently boast the most wins in Major League Baseball, and their lineup is about to get even better. After a rehab stint in Pawtucket, longtime second baseman Dustin Pedroia will soon rejoin the Red Sox and further improve the lineup. But where does a Dustin Pedroia return means for this new-look Red Sox offense, and what will he bring to the club?
How a Dustin Pedroia Return Helps the Boston Red Sox
First off, let’s break down the reasonable expectations for the second baseman. After years of being among the best players in baseball, injuries have taken their toll on the Laser Show over the past few years. Anyone who is expecting 2008 Pedroia is asking for disappointment; he’s not that kind of player anymore. Since 2014, Pedroia only averages 121 games played per season and has only hit 41 home runs over the past four seasons.
That being said, Pedroia still can serve a valuable role with this team. While he may have lost the power he once had, Pedroia is still a solid major league batter. Since 2014, Pedroia has posted a slash line of .296/.360/.415 and a wRC+ of 110, meaning he’s 10% better than the average hitter.
Compare this production to what the primary second baseman, Eduardo Nunez, has produced so far. While he’s been a serviceable backup, 2018 has shown that he’s best utilized as a bench option. Through 157 plate appearances, Nunez has posted a slash line of .233/.256/.353 and a wRC+ of 58. Clearly, this is significantly worse than what Pedroia averages over the last four seasons. If Pedroia can put up numbers similar to his past few seasons, then he’ll improve the lineup.
The Boston Red Sox are among the top offenses in the league, and they’ve been doing it with essentially half the lineup. The problems with the bottom part of the order are well-documented, and replacing Nunez with Pedroia should go a long way in fixing said issue.
Pedroia in the Field
While Pedroia isn’t the hitter he used to be, he’s still the elite defender he’s always been. Even if his offensive production doesn’t eclipse Nunez (highly unlikely), his defense alone justifies his presence in the lineup. Nunez has been an absolute liability on defense, and Pedroia’s gold glove caliber defense should save runs that Nunez allowed.
Looking at basic fielding metrics, it doesn’t seem like Pedroia is that much of a defensive upgrade on Nunez. Pedroia finished 2017 with an incredible .995 fielding percentage, while Nunez has a seemingly-respectable .982 fielding percentage.
However, basic fielding statistics don’t tell the whole story here. Nunez doesn’t make that many errors primarily because he’s not in a position to make defensive plays in the first place. It’s impossible to make an error if you’re not around the play, so fielding percentage isn’t the best way to judge a player’s defensive acumen.
One of the better stats for judging overall defensive prowess is Fangraphs UZR/150 statistic. In essence, this stat grades the overall range a player is able to cover on defense, and then normalizes the results over a 150-game period. The end result tells approximately how many runs a player saves relative to the league average defender. Pedroia finished his 2017 season with a 9.6 UZR/150, ranking among the best in the league.
Nunez, meanwhile, currently owns a -1.5 UZR/150. What this essentially means is that, over the course of a full season, Nunez allows 11 more defensive runs than Pedroia. That’s a serious swing in production, and easily adds an extra win or two for the Red Sox.
Where Does Pedroia Fit in the Lineup?
Now that it’s been established that Pedroia is an offensive and defensive upgrade on Nunez, where does he fit in the current Red Sox lineup? Currently, the top of the Red Sox lineup is absolutely stacked, and it will be hard to find a position for Pedroia near the top of the order. Nobody among the top five or six spots deserves a demotion; everyone’s been hitting too well. With that being said, this is how the Red Sox lineup should look once Pedroia returns:
The seven hole is far lower in the order than Pedroia typically hits, but it’s hard to find another spot in the lineup for him. Pedroia probably won’t mind this change, as this lineup (outside of the catcher position) doesn’t have a weak spot. Hitters 1-8 all have the potential to change the game with one swing, and the top seven rival anyone in baseball. Devers could be the best eight hitter in all of baseball.
In summary, Dustin Pedroia’s return should significantly improve the Red Sox offense and defense. Offensively, Pedroia is still a solid contact hitter whose presence will immediately help the bottom of the order woes. Defensively, his glove will save runs and make plays that Nunez allowed all too frequently. Nunez can be relegated to a bench role, which honestly is a better spot for him on the team. Essentially, Pedroia’s return makes every aspect of the Red Sox better. The Sox are currently tied for first place, and now they’re getting their star second baseman back. This should be a fun season.