Dustin Pedroia's season is over due to season-ending hand surgery. As Gordon Edes reports, this is the third consecutive season Pedroia will have surgery for a hand-related issue, and you wonder if it's a chronic issue at this point.
Gordon also asks if, at age 31, Pedroia's best seasons are behind him:
Pedroia has seven years and $96.5 million left on the eight-year, $110 million contract extension he signed in July 2013, a deal that will take him through his 38th birthday.
Did the Red Sox bet on the wrong guy at the wrong position, especially at a time when they were under no compulsion to act? Pedroia, remember, still had two years left on his deal when the Sox tore up his existing contract and signed him to what was widely described as a team-friendly extension. It looked even better when Robinson Cano, whose own former Yankees teammate, Mariano Rivera, said was not Pedroia's equal, signed a 10-year, $240 million free-agent deal with the Seattle Mariners.
Pedroia finishes the season with a .278/.337/.376 line -- career lows in all three categories. I'd suggest Pedroia's decline has been the result of three things: (1) Natural aging; (2) The hand injuries; (3) The lower strike zone that has been called in recent years has allowed pitchers to pound him down low, away from his power zone.
Despite his size, Pedroia's hands were so quick he had always been able to turn on high fastballs and do damage -- especially at Fenway. But check his numbers against pitches classified as in the upper half of vertical location (all pitches, not just strikes) over the years:
The numbers have cratered the past few years and explain his decrease in power the past two seasons (16 home runs total, after hitting 15 in 2012 and 21 in 2011). Interestingly, Pedroia's line-drive rate this year was 23 percent, his highest mark going back to 2010, according to ESPN data. (Baseball-Reference had him at 25 percent, also a career high.)
At the same time, however, he's also hitting more groundballs and fewer fly balls. Thus, fewer home runs and doubles off the Monster. As pitchers throw more to the lower half of the zone, it makes sense that a hitter like Pedroia is going to hit more line drive and groundballs, since he doesn't necessarily have a natural loft in his swing.
Have we seen the best of Pedroia? Part of his offensive decline has been mirrored by the decline across the league, so he's still retained a lot of value. His defense is still strong. Baseball-Reference grades him at 4.7 Wins Above Replacement in 2014, tied for third among major league second basemen with Brian Dozier and Howie Kendrick, behind only Robinson Cano and Jose Altuve.
As for his Hall of Fame chances, his résumé so far begins with the two World Series titles and 2008 AL MVP Award. This is considered his age-30 season (he turned 31 in August); here are the career leaders in WAR among second basemen through age 30, via Baseball-Reference, and whether they made the Hall of Fame:
1. Rogers Hornsby: 90.4 (yes)
2. Eddie Collins: 76.3 (yes)
3. Joe Morgan: 54.1 (yes)
4. Frankie Frisch: 51.1 (yes)
5. Rod Carew: 49.9 (yes)
6. Roberto Alomar: 46.8 (yes)
7. Bobby Grich: 46.8 (no)
8. Robinson Cano: 45.1 (active)
9. Ryne Sandberg: 44.5 (yes)
10. Chuck Knoblauch: 44.1 (no)
11. Dustin Pedroia: 43.1 (active)
12. Lou Whitaker: 42.7 (no)
13. Wille Randolph: 42.6 (no)
14. Chase Utley: 42.1 (active)
15. Tony Lazzeri: 40.9 (yes, via Veterans Committee)
There are others below the top-15 who also made the Hall of Fame: Billy Herman, Bobby Doerr, Joe Gordon, Nellie Fox, Charlie Gehringer, Nap Lajoie and Bill Mazeroski. All except Gehringer and Lajoie were Veterans Committee selections. Craig Biggio -- 35.0 WAR through age 30 -- should also make it in this year.
Let's look at what some of these guys did after age 30, to see what Pedroia may have to do to get his career WAR into Hall of Fame range:
Alomar -- 20.0 (career: 66.8)
Sandberg -- 23.0 (career: 67.5)
Knoblauch -- 0.5 (career: 44.6)
Whitaker -- 32.2 (career: 74.9)
Randolph -- 22.9 (career: 65.5)
Utley -- 19.2 (career: 61.3, in age-35 season)
Whitaker and Randolph never received any love from Hall of Fame voters and haven't yet shown up on Veterans Committee ballots. They're two favorites of the stathead community. Knoblauch fell apart after turning 30. The best cases here would be Alomar and Sandberg, both of whom started declining in their early 30s but hung around long enough to build up enough career value to get them elected.
Is Pedroia viewed on their level? That's what I'm not sure about. He won the MVP Award and finished seventh and ninth in the voting two other times. Sandberg also won once and finished fourth twice and had a scattering of non-top-10 finishes. Alomar never won but finished in the top six on five occasions.
Obviously, MVP voting isn't the only thing to look but it serves as a reasonable proxy for how voters may view a player. So Pedroia's MVP results are comparable but a notch below those two.
I'd say Pedroia still needs five solid years to build a solid foundation for a Hall of Fame case -- 2-3 .300 seasons with good health are vital, to build some of those career counting numbers. He's still young enough where that can happen. Whether his hands will allow that to happen is the unknown. Ultimately, there's no reason why Pedroia shouldn't be able to accumulate 20 to 25 more career WAR. I think that gets him in -- maybe just below the Alomar/Sandberg line but above the Whitaker/Randolph line.