Who will Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia be in 2019?

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 13: Dustin Pedroia #15 of the Boston Red Sox looks on during the third inning against the Oakland Athletics at Fenway Park on September 13, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 13: Dustin Pedroia #15 of the Boston Red Sox looks on during the third inning against the Oakland Athletics at Fenway Park on September 13, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Dustin Pedroia will return to the baseball field this season, but will he be the same player we’ve grown to love over this past decade?

I, like all of Red Sox Nation, was captivated by the meteoric rise of a short, gritty second baseman named Dustin Pedroia in the summer of 2007. I was a ten-year-old playing little league baseball at the time. I too was a small statured second baseman and that connection was enough to make Pedroia somewhat of an idol to me growing up. He seemingly willed himself to be a star. He consistently gave an all-out effort on every play of every game with complete disregard for his body. This quality, along with his consistently stellar level of play, has made Pedroia one of the most popular figures in recent Red Sox history. Unfortunately, this same quality has driven his decline.

Pedroia, now 35, has seen his body take a beating in recent years. He played through a UCL tear in 2013, he played through a left hand injury and then underwent hand surgery in 2014, he missed two months for a hamstring injury in 2015, he played through a knee injury in 2016 and then underwent knee surgery after the season, and he went on the DL three separate times for wrist and knee sprains in 2017 and then underwent knee surgery again after the season causing him to miss all of 2018.

When on the field over the last few seasons he’s still been a productive player, if not a superstar. From 2015 to 2017, Pedroia slashed .304/.369/.430 with 34 dingers and almost as many walks as strikeouts. On the other side of the ball, Pedroia tied for the league lead among second baseman in UZR/150 at 6.4. He’s definitely not 2008 MVP Pedroia, but whether he has a couple more seasons left in the tank or injuries are about to send him over a cliff is something of an open question.

So what should we expect from Pedroia in 2019? The first thing we should discuss is how second basemen typically age. The answer, in general, is poorly. Matt Sullivan of Over the Monster notes that the aging curve is somewhat more friendly for elite second basemen. I would love to do an analysis of how players fair coming back from knee surgery, especially at an advanced age like Pedroia. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a database of such injuries. However, it is worth noting that the 23 players Sullivan based his analysis on may no longer be a representative sample for forecasting Pedroia. Most players who have had as many injuries after their 30th birthday as Pedroia has had hung up their spikes well before their age-35 season. In fact, no second baseman from that 23 player group both missed 300 games between the ages of 30 and 34 (Pedroia has missed 320) and played baseball at the age of 35.

This suggests that we are in some unfamiliar territory. We have no clear reference points for how to project second basemen who have been highly productive for as long as Pedroia has while also being battered by as many injuries. Projection systems are equally as puzzled with what we should expect from Dustin.


PECOTA is behind a paywall so I could only extract the PECOTA projection for Pedroia that was stated in this article. Defensively, PECOTA projects Pedroia to be “slightly below league average” while Steamer has Pedey clocking in with an above average Def rating of 4.1 – good for 7th among second basemen. So there are some different narratives running through these projections. ZiPS thinks Pedroia will be relatively healthy but will be a well below average big league bat and basically produce at the level of an average big league regular by WAR when extrapolated over a full season. PECOTA expects his offense to bounce in full, but also predicts worse health and a diminished glove. Steamer is kind of in the middle of those two.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I have no concrete idea for what to expect from Pedroia this season. It’s hard to go by appropriate comps, projection systems disagree, and we can’t even talk about how he performed this past season. Well, actually, that’s only partially true. We have one comparison for how an older, injury-riddled 2nd baseman, with similar career value performed after coming back from knee surgery. That comparison is Dustin Pedroia coming back from knee surgery in 2017.

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I mentioned earlier that he has been a reasonably strong performer between 2015-2017. However, 2017 was easily his weakest performance of those three seasons. In fact, it was his weakest full season as a big leaguer. He slashed .293/.369/.392 with a .99 ISO and a league average 101 wRC+ in 105 games. He also had his worst season on the basepaths, getting caught stealing 3/7 times and earning a BsR value of -4.7. His defense remained above average by UZR, but his Range Runs Above Average dropped from 5.0 in 2016 to 2.7. He was a slightly above average regular, but nothing more.

In 2019, Pedroia will be coming off knee surgery again. This time he will be a year older two years older than he was in 2017, with an extra procedure on his bill of health, and a full year of rust. In that sense, the upper bound on what we can reasonably expect from Dustin is his 2017 performance. That’s the realistic best-case scenario.

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Maybe he can will himself to do better – he’s proved everyone wrong at every step of his career so far – but it would be a fool’s errand to predict a huge uptick in performance from a 35-year-old second basemen who has barely seen the diamond in the past year and was already clearly on the decline. This is not meant to be a doom and gloom piece. The Red Sox won without Pedroia last year, after all. But even though his name might be on the lineup card this season, they will likely have to win without the version of Pedroia that we’ve become accustomed to this past decade.