Last season was an abbreviated one for Dustin Pedroia, yet he hit 12 home runs, only three fewer than the year before and in 324 fewer at-bats. As a matter of fact, Pedroia’s AB/HR rate in 2010, if prorated over 640 at-bats -- his two-year average -- would have led to a career-high 25 home runs (his previous career high was 17). Now reportedly 100 percent ready to go for the 2011 season, should we be expecting a career year for the Red Sox's scrappy second baseman?
The first statistic of note is Pedroia’s spike in HR/FB rate from 6.3 percent in 2009 to 11.4 percent in 2010. Pedroia had never had a HR/FB rate above 8.3 percent until last season and the spike came without a drastic rise in his fly ball rate.
A natural reaction while looking forward is to expect a regression in his HR/FB rate for the 2011 season. However, one must also consider that Pedroia is just now entering what many believe to be the prime of a player’s career (somewhere in the range of 26-31) and could simply be improving this aspect of his game.
The key to this equation goes beyond statistics. In order to be great, a major league baseball player must adjust. Adjust from at-bat to at-bat, from pitcher to pitcher, from environment to environment. Pedroia may not be the most gifted athlete in the world, but he is one heck of a smart baseball player (and hard worker) and has clearly adjusted to his environment.
The majority of Pedroia’s home runs come to the pull side. Knowing he has a large monster of a wall in left field, which is closer to home plate than most walls, Pedroia has learned to try and drive the ball to his pull side at Fenway. As a result, Pedroia has accrued more extra base hits at home than on the road (one extra base hit in every eight at-bats at home compared to one extra base hit per every 12 at-bats on the road). Consequently, in terms of home runs, 47 of Pedroia’s 54 career long balls have landed over the left-field fence.
There is little doubt that Pedroia knows that he can drive the ball to left field and find success more often than not when he does so at Fenway. He is a career .325/.386/.500 hitter at home and a career .285/.353/.420 hitter on the road.
Based on past performance, one would have to say that a regression in HR/FB rate and AB/HR rate are likely. However, if there is any player in baseball out to prove the nay-sayers wrong, it’s Dustin Pedroia.
Would I count on a career year and a 20/20 season from Pedroia in 2011? Not necessarily, but I certainly wouldn’t doubt it either.