ZiPS Time Warp: Dustin Pedroia

By the time Dustin Pedroia officially announced his retirement early this month, it was already apparent that he’d never return to the Red Sox as a full-time player. One of the last active members of the 2007 championship team — Jon Lester is still kicking around, and I don’t believe Clay Buchholz has officially retired — his run ended prematurely thanks to the consequences of a 2017 knee injury. This was no random injury, either; it was the result of a collision at second with Manny Machado buckling Pedroia’s knee on a high-spikes slide. This wasn’t Machado’s first (or last) questionable slide as a baserunner, but the results here were worse than they looked initially. Pedroia played through pain for the rest of the 2017 season, missing most of August with continued inflammation, then had a procedure after the 2017 season to restore missing cartilage to his knee.

At the time, the belief was that Pedroia would be able to return in 2018, though not likely at the start of the season. Instead, he only totaled nine more games in what ended up being the rest of his career, with continual cycles of the knee feeling better followed by significant setbacks. More operations were required, and while he theoretically could have returned in 2020, he never got anywhere near returning to the field, and after the Red Sox agreed to pay him his full 2021 salary, he walked off into the sunset.

My colleague Brendan Gawlowski has already covered Pedroia’s retirement and what he meant to Red Sox fans and to baseball as a whole. Here, I’m using the ZiPS time machine once again to take a look at the bittersweet what-ifs.

In terms of making the Hall of Fame, Pedroia finishes tantalizingly close to induction on merit. In terms of Jay Jaffe’s JAWS, which balances peak and career WAR, he ranks 20th in baseball history among second basemen. The problem is that the number of Hall of Fame voters who vote based on WAR measures isn’t enough to ensure any player’s induction, and his traditional stats are meager by Hall standards. Perhaps if his injury had been a sudden one not traditionally connected with baseball, such as Kirby Puckett’s glaucoma, it would have given him a chance at a voting boost, but I expect that with 1,800 career hits, it’s going to be an uphill battle. (There are arguably more deserving second basemen on the outside of the Hall looking in than any other position, with Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, Willie Randolph, and Jeff Kent also likely snubs, at least in my eyes. Chase Utley won’t have an easy path to 75%, and Ian Kinsler will likely be one-and-done.)

Before we set our time machine to 2017 and give Pedroia a gentler descent path to his career, let’s briefly start at the beginning. Drafted in the second round in 2004 out of Arizona, he was extraordinarily polished for a player of his age, hitting a combined .357/.435/.535 at two levels after his late-season debut. There was no fluke here: He hit .293/.385/.452 in the high minors in 2005, and a .305/.384/.426 line for Triple-A Pawtucket earned him a trip to the majors just over two years after being drafted. His initial cup of coffee was missing the cream and sugar, but projections were through the roof for the 2006 season. I didn’t do a ZiPS Top 100 prospect list at the time, but his rest-of-career projection entering that season would have ranked him second on that year’s list.

ZiPS and PECOTA loved Pedroia going into the season on the strength of some pretty sweet minor league translations. I can’t vouch for what translations BP was using at the time, but his ZiPS MLEs (zMLE) for 2004 to ’06 were borderline unreal.

ZiPS Minor League Translations – Dustin Pedroia
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB DR
2004 .291 .353 .442 165 28 48 12 2 3 24 13 7 2 3
2005 .277 .349 .398 477 64 132 28 3 8 64 44 42 6 7
2006 .299 .362 .409 435 50 130 32 2 4 46 37 26 1 5

A player already translating as hitting close to .300 and playing an adroit (Pedroit?) second base? A 94/75 walk-to-strikeout ratio? I am a huge fan and would like to subscribe to your newsletter. None of these seasons would have looked particularly odd in the career that Pedroia eventually had, though with not as much power as he developed.

For the 2006 season, ZiPS projected a .275/.343/.403 line with nine home runs. I didn’t calculate WAR at this time, but I get about 2.1 WAR for his projection. ZiPS was less sophisticated at the time and didn’t make career projections for another year, so let’s take a brief stop and project Pedroia’s career entering the 2006 season using the latest ZiPS model and perfect knowledge of league offensive levels.

ZiPS Time Warp – Dustin Pedroia (Pre-2006)
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2005 .191 .258 .303 89 5 17 4 0 2 7 7 7 0 42 -2 -1.0
2006 .287 .352 .437 478 69 137 36 6 8 59 40 37 6 101 6 3.1
2007 .306 .375 .469 461 74 141 36 6 9 65 42 34 6 111 6 3.9
2008 .288 .367 .469 465 74 134 40 7 10 65 50 37 6 114 7 3.9
2009 .286 .365 .480 465 76 133 37 10 11 69 50 40 6 115 7 4.0
2010 .285 .366 .464 463 74 132 34 8 11 67 51 43 6 121 7 3.8
2011 .294 .371 .468 459 78 135 34 8 10 71 48 43 5 124 7 3.9
2012 .289 .367 .483 447 70 129 33 9 12 63 47 46 5 126 6 3.9
2013 .278 .357 .448 431 69 120 29 7 10 61 45 43 5 115 5 3.0
2014 .270 .352 .443 418 57 113 30 9 8 50 45 40 4 122 4 2.7
2015 .277 .350 .446 401 63 111 25 8 9 57 37 36 4 113 4 2.5
2016 .273 .350 .441 381 62 104 23 7 9 55 38 35 3 106 2 2.2
2017 .267 .345 .420 348 49 93 19 5 8 44 35 31 2 100 1 1.7
2018 .258 .334 .387 318 47 82 18 1 7 39 30 28 2 94 0 1.0
2019 .250 .328 .389 280 42 70 16 1 7 35 27 24 1 86 -1 0.7
2020 .243 .313 .358 218 28 53 11 1 4 23 18 16 1 81 -2 0.0
2021 .240 .307 .351 171 21 41 8 1 3 17 13 12 1 74 -3 -0.2
Total .277 .353 .442 6293 958 1745 433 94 138 847 623 552 63 109 55 39.1

In the end, the projection came shockingly close to what actually happened, with the OBP and SLG both very close and only two homers off the eventual result. I wish that career projection were this accurate typically, but unfortunately, they’re not! ZiPS didn’t see Pedroia’s power peak as high, and he was even better defensively, but the projected version wasn’t that different from the real one.

There were always injuries, most notably a two-year period in 2014 and ’15 when he was hampered by thumb and hamstring injuries. But neither of these maladies significantly altered the course of his career, and he put up a vintage Pedroia year in 2016, collecting 4.9 WAR and setting a new career-high in batting average at .318. Now 33, this is the perfect time for us to re-project the rest of his baseball years, now without that collision at second.

ZiPS Time Warp – Dustin Pedroia (Pre-2017)
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ WAR
2006 .191 .258 .303 89 5 17 4 0 2 7 7 7 0 42 -1.0
2007 .317 .380 .442 520 86 165 39 1 8 50 47 42 7 112 3.7
2008 .326 .376 .493 653 118 213 54 2 17 83 50 52 20 123 6.4
2009 .296 .371 .447 626 115 185 48 1 15 72 74 45 20 110 4.7
2010 .288 .367 .493 302 53 87 24 1 12 41 37 38 9 127 3.2
2011 .307 .387 .474 635 102 195 37 3 21 91 86 85 26 131 7.9
2012 .290 .347 .449 563 81 163 39 3 15 65 48 60 20 114 4.3
2013 .301 .372 .415 641 91 193 42 2 9 84 73 75 17 115 4.9
2014 .278 .337 .376 551 72 153 33 0 7 53 51 75 6 99 3.8
2015 .291 .356 .441 381 46 111 19 1 12 42 38 51 2 112 2.3
2016 .318 .376 .449 633 105 201 36 1 15 74 61 73 7 117 4.9
2017 .293 .354 .414 553 79 162 29 1 12 60 53 71 7 101 3.5
2018 .279 .339 .403 509 75 142 28 1 11 58 47 64 6 100 2.6
2019 .273 .335 .396 480 72 131 27 1 10 55 46 61 5 90 2.2
2020 .267 .322 .377 416 54 111 20 1 8 41 35 45 4 88 1.3
2021 .265 .313 .360 378 46 100 16 1 6 35 27 38 4 78 0.7
2022 .258 .303 .351 248 28 64 9 1 4 22 16 23 2 71 0.1
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ WAR
ZiPS RoC .275 .332 .389 2584 354 710 129 6 51 271 224 302 28 91 10.4
Actual .279 .356 .371 437 48 122 19 0 7 63 52 51 4 92 1.4
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ WAR
ZiPS Career .293 .355 .427 8178 1228 2393 504 21 184 933 796 905 162 107 55.5
Actual .299 .365 .439 6031 922 1805 394 15 140 725 624 654 138 113 46.6

A longer decline doesn’t drastically change the result and even lowers some of the rate stats, but it also gives Pedroia some time to amass better counting stats. Nearly 2,500 hits looks a lot better than 1,800; combine that with his reputation and rings, and it gives him at least a fighting chance on the ballot. I think this version of Pedroia still has trouble hitting 75%, but I think he’d at least have a better Veterans Committee case down the road. He had a fine career, just not as much of it as everyone would have hoped.

For a long time, it appeared that there was at least a chance that someday, we’d get a joint Pedroia/Robinson Canó induction year. Now, the odds of this look much longer with both Pedroia’s shortened career and Canó’s two PED-related suspensions. This trip through time was less tragic than some other cases, such as Tony Conigliaro’s, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been cool if the fates had been a tad kinder here.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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darkness88
Member
darkness88

I don’t want to be reminded again of dirty Machado. My guess that the simulation didn’t change much did turn out to be correct.
Note: The minor league chart has Pedroia with 7 SO in 165 AB in 2004. Should it be 17?

gtagomori
Member
Member
gtagomori

Machado is the first major player that came to “my” team (Dodgers) whom I only knew from highlights and stats (hadn’t heard anything about personality etc)

I went from being highly excited to mildly disturbed. There’s just something dark about him. The same way ARod was in his late career

proiste
Member
proiste

Agreed. I know there’s a lot of hothead competitors in the sport, but some of Machado’s actions have been disturbingly violent.

With any other player, I don’t think people would’ve even been that angry about the Pedroia slide. It’s an intense one, but you could see how it’s an accident from the right angle. But the guy also threw a bat at Josh Donaldson and damn near tried to break Jesus Aguilar’s ankle on a routine grounder. There’s an air of cruelty there that is hard to stomach.

dl80
Member
Member
dl80

I’m not even sure if this is a controversial opinion, but Machado is more likely to end up in the Hall of Fame than Pedroia, right?

Almost 1300 hits and 223 home runs through age 27 probably puts him on pace for at least 2000 and 400. He’s at 36 WAR and should clear 50 at least.

I’m not sure how much his reputation will hurt him, but it seems like an example of fate being rather unkind.

Fredchuckdave
Member

You’re comparing a 0% case to a >0% case

gtagomori
Member
Member
gtagomori

You’re a 100% right. Pedroia just misses the minimum WAR that seems to be required to be considered now (example : Chase Utley was viewed as a similar player for grit, effort, intelligence – but Utley has 13 more BWAR putting him right below the average HOF 2B his play style and success will make up for being slightly below the established HOF 2B standard)

By the way the last 13 WAR of Utleys career came after his age 33 season. Pedroia basically lost his post 33 seasons.