In his first full major league season, Dustin Pedroia won the Rookie of the Year. In his second season, Pedroia was named AL MVP. Since then, Pedroia has been a reliable, hustling presence in the Sox lineup.
Now, in his ninth big league season, that consistent excellence may be deteriorating. Pedroia’s .342 slugging percentage this year is one of the worst on the team, and is perhaps a sign of his diminished pop at the plate. Since 2011, Pedroia’s slugging percentage has steadily decreased, from .474, to .449, to .414, to this year’s meager .342.
His current extraordinarily high ground ball to fly ball ratio helps explain this trend. His career ratio is about 1.3 ground balls to every fly ball, yet this year he’s hitting approximately 2.5 ground balls to every fly ball. Last year this number was 1.83, which accounts for his career high total of 24 ground ball double plays.
Pedroia’s wrist and hand injuries the last two seasons could certainly be responsible for this dip offensively. He always plays through pain, so it’s impossible to know how much these issues have affected his hitting. However, it seems more likely that his dip in stolen bases (26 in 2011, 20 in 2012, 17 last year, and just one so far this year) is due to the natural athletic regression many players experience as they get older.
Regardless of how well he hits or how many bases he steals, Pedroia is going to be a member of the Sox for many years to come. He’s locked in with the Sox until 2021, at which point he’ll be 37 years old. The deal is structured so that Pedroia’s salary increases until it peaks at $16 million in 2018, with his salary then dropping to $15, $13, and finally $12 million the last three years of the contract, supposedly to align with a slight dip in play.
Unfortunately, that diminished production may be coming much earlier than the Sox initially anticipated. While Pedroia will always dive for balls seemingly out of his reach, get clutch hits, and fire up his teammates, his age looks to creeping up on him, sapping the power and speed from his game.