How to Tell Quickly if Dustin Pedroia Is Back by Jeff Sullivan February 9, 2015 It’s safe to say that Dustin Pedroia has never been lacking for confidence. And remember, Pedroia’s confidence stands out among other major-league baseball players, who are already some of the most confident individuals around, by necessity. So it’s not just that Pedroia has 80-grade self-confidence; it’s that he has 80-grade self-confidence even out of the population pool limited to people with 80-grade self-confidence relative to the general populace. Pedroia is three standard deviations above the mean of those who are three standard deviations above the mean. Related: Pedroia’s 2014 ended with wrist surgery, and these days he’s feeling really good about things. This is something from November: “Now that it’s fixed, it’s night and day. I can already tell that. There’s a lot of IOU’s to hand out to people, so I’m pretty excited about it.” This is something from a couple weeks ago: “The ball’s going to go farther,” Pedroia said. “The balls are going 400 feet now (in batting practice). And then, when you add 5 mph (against pitchers), I’m not a chemist or anything, it’s probably going to go 500.” Pedroia is almost a caricature of his player type, in how often he’s played through pain. In 2013, he was having problems with his thumb. Throughout 2014, he was having problems with his wrist. Not only did this affect Pedroia, directly, during the season; he also couldn’t do his normal upper-body workouts, so there were also indirect effects. Because of his injuries, Pedroia couldn’t hit the ball like usual, and while he still managed to have an overall successful season, 2014 was the first time in Pedroia’s career he didn’t post even a .100 ISO at home. In a weird way, injuries can be encouraging, at least when they’re resolved, and when they can serve to explain an otherwise mysterious performance decline. When you examine Pedroia’s record, it absolutely makes sense that he would’ve struggled to hit for power last year, because of wrist discomfort and because of limited exercise. And if the wrist is fixed, and if the other things have healed up, it seems downright sensible to figure Pedroia will get back to what he used to be. After all, the problem’s solved, right? He’s not even 32 years old. He’s a few years from having hit 15 home runs. Why shouldn’t Pedroia be able to bounce back? The fate of Dustin Pedroia will go some distance toward determining the fate of the Red Sox. Pedroia seems promising, and the Red Sox seem promising. Pedroia’s got upside, but a return to form can’t be absolutely taken for granted. So people are going to be on the lookout early on to see where Pedroia might stand. With that in mind, I think there could be one handy indicator of what Pedroia is in 2015, an indicator that shouldn’t take long to emerge. It’s all about Dustin Pedroia hitting at home. From Baseball Savant, here are his extra-base hits at Fenway since 2008: You can find pitches almost everywhere, but for the most part, they’re concentrated over the inner half. Few hitters have been able to take advantage of the Green Monster like Dustin Pedroia has been able to take advantage of the Green Monster, and while pitchers have stayed away from pretty much all righties in Boston, that’s historically been especially true with Pedroia. Used to be, when Pedroia was more of a terror, pitchers targeted the outer third, trying to force Pedroia to go up the middle or the other way. Alas, when the injuries hit, strategies started to change. The injuries changed Pedroia, and opponents responded to that. You can find some pretty good forecasts by examining Vegas betting lines, because Vegas has untold amounts of money invested in the given event(s) so they need to be as accurate as possible. Similarly, there’s a lot of value in seeing how different teams approach a hitter or a pitcher, because baseball teams have a lot on the line, so they need to look for every advantage. Teams won’t give you their proprietary scouting reports, but you can infer them. Look at Dustin Pedroia’s pitch patterns at Fenway. Here are his rates of inside pitches at home, where “inside pitch” is defined simply as being on the Pedroia side of the middle of the plate. When Dustin Pedroia was more healthy and productive, his inside-pitch rate at home hovered in the upper 30s. Last season it jumped all the way up to 45%, and while that might seem like a subtle adjustment, it moved Pedroia well up the right-handed leaderboard. What it suggests is that pitchers, justifiably, were less afraid of Pedroia rattling the Monster with a line drive. Here are some heat maps, covering the last four seasons: You can see the shift in from the outer third. It’s not that Pedroia was incapable of punishing a pitch last season, but with his swing integrity compromised, there was just a lot less risk closer in toward the hands. Here are Pedroia’s home groundball rates on inside pitches: Season GB%, Home, Inside 2008 41% 2009 34% 2010 32% 2011 43% 2012 37% 2013 40% 2014 53% When Dustin Pedroia is well, he’s a threat to dent the Monster. Pitchers respond to that by making it more challenging for him to get ahead of a pitch. When Dustin Pedroia isn’t well, he’s less of a threat, and pitchers respond to that by mixing it up and seeing if they can get Pedroia jammed. Scouting reports don’t take very long to update themselves. According to Pedroia, 2015 is going to be a year of redemption. He thinks that his power is back. If his power is back, it shouldn’t take long for that to be reflected in Pedroia’s Fenway Park pitch patterns. He won’t get challenged over the inner half if opponents think Pedroia’s recovered his All-Star ability. So there’s your indicator. Over the first several home series, pay attention to how Pedroia is getting pitched. If pitchers are still confident coming in, they’re not buying that Pedroia is a threat. There’s value in that. If pitchers are no longer so confident coming in, they’re seeing something that’s telling them they should go back to staying away. There’s value in that. If Dustin Pedroia is back, opponents will pick up on it quickly, and he’ll be pitched like he used to be pitched. Maybe it’s a bit of a leap to put so much faith in an inferred scouting report, but pitch patterns don’t lie. Those are the patterns of baseball teams trying to get Dustin Pedroia out. If you want to know if Dustin Pedroia is back, watch to see if opponents act like Dustin Pedroia is back. Or just watch to see if Dustin Pedroia slams a bunch of dingers. That’s fine, too, but it doesn’t let you feel like as much of a detective.