Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Fire Brand -- The Intangible Benefit of Dustin Pedroia
ESPN's Sweet Spot baseball blog network Fire Brand of the American League where Dan Rowinski is a weekly columnist.
Everybody knows about "The Laser Show." Dustin Pedroia is the working man of working men on the Sox roster (next to Kevin Youkilis, of course) and the straw that stirs the proverbial cocktail. Pedroia seems more like a whiskey type of guy to me, not that it matters.
Yet, the Sox former Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year is not having the best of starts to the 2010 season. It has been a poor May for the Sox second baseman with a .237/.343/.376 in 23 games entering Wednesday with two home runs and seven RBI in 108 plate appearances. Definitely not the greatest month of Pedey's boisterous career but, as is often the case, the base numbers do not tell the whole story.
The Sox lineup, as always, is a meat grinder. They have four players in the top 20 in the American League in pitches seen per plate appearance (P/PA) and Pedroia ranks seventh at 4.27 (behind Youkilis who is fourth at 4.36) through 217 plate appearances (Victor Martinez is 11th at 4.12, J.D. Drew 13th at 4.11 while Marco Scutaro is 33rd at 3.92). Pedroia is also second in the league in total plate appearances at 217, behind only Denard Span of the Twins at 218, and leads the league in total pitches seen. Factoring in the entire majors, Youkilis ranks ninth and Pedroia 19th in P/PA.
Sitting in the No. 2 hole in the Sox lineup, Pedroia pesky plate appearances have a ripple down effect. Take for instance last Thursday when Boston beat Minnesota 6-2 on the strength of Jon Lester's nine-strikeout complete game. Pedroia was 0-3 with a walk and a run against the Twins and Francisco Liriano and was instrumental in knocking Minnesota's wily lefty out of the game after 4.2 innings with five earned runs on five hits and three walks. Pedroia was in the midst of a 4 for 39 slump at the time that spanned from May 12 to 23 before putting up three hits against the Rays on Monday.
There were good things to see from Pedroia that night. In his first three plate appearances against Liriano he saw 21 pitches, working the lefty to into a frustration that Martinez and Youkilis would capitalize on. In his first at-bat, Pedroia saw four pitches and popped out to shortstop in the first. Nothing out of the ordinary there but the second baseman saw eight pitches and drew a walk (and scored on a Youkilis three-run homer) in the third and then nine pitches on a fly out to right-center in the fifth. His final at bat was a four-pitch fly out to right against Jesse Crain.
After Pedroia's final three at-bats against the Twins the next hitter up, Martinez, hit a double. Coincidence? Perhaps but Liriano served up meatballs to Martinez after throwing 17 pitches to Pedroia between his second and third at-bats and Martinez was able to put some wood on the ball in early counts on his way to a three double night.
"We made him work and it is a lot easier when you get one swing of the bat and get a three-run homer. Youk put a really good swing and what maybe was overlooked going into that was Pedey had a great at bat so we had some base runners. Youk takes a great swing and drives it and it spreads it out a little bit," manager Terry Francona said in his press conference after the game (I was covering it for WEEI.com that particular day).
That is the value of Pedroia. Never stops working, never gives up and at bat and sets the tone at the top of the order.
On Wednesday against the Rays, Pedroia's talents were once again on full display. Twice he worked a walk on Tampa starter Matt Garza and scored on home runs by Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz as the Sox went up 6-2 in the middle innings. The first at-bat against Garza in the third inning Pedroia went down in the count 1-2 and then drew three straight balls to work a six-pitch walk. Ortiz grounded out into the right field shift next but Pedroia knew that nobody was covering third on the play and hustled around the diamond to beat the throw and keep the inning alive with a runner in scoring position.
Youkilis then drew a walk and Beltre hit his second home run of the game that made it 4-2. Then in the fifth Pedroia drew another six-pitch walk against Garza and then scored immediately as Ortiz put the ball in the right field bleachers.
Reports of the Red Sox offensive demise before the season have turned out to be exaggerated and in retrospect they look quite foolish. Any team that sees a lot of pitches is going to have a degree of success because it means that lineup is dotted with quality hitters. The track records of guys like Drew, Pedroia, Youkilis and Scutaro were evidence that the Boston offense was going to be just fine and heading into Memorial Day, that is definitely the case.