We’ve talked plenty about David Ortiz, for reasons that amount to “duh.” We’ve talked about Mookie Betts, who’s an MVP candidate. We’ve had good things to say about Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., too. And about the entire Boston Red Sox offense, for that matter.

But Dustin Pedroia is the one Red Sox star we really haven’t singled out yet. Let’s change that.

It’s the least we can do after the veteran second baseman came this close to making a bit of baseball history at Fenway Park on Saturday. Pedroia entered the Red Sox’s evening tilt against the Kansas City Royals with seven straight hits dating back to Thursday, and he added four more in his first four at-bats of an eventual 8-3 win. 

If Pedroia could have added one more hit, he would tie the all-time record for consecutive hits. That was not to be. He ended his hit streak (and his evening) by grounding into a double play in the bottom of the eighth.

But judging from how he heard that he was closing in on history, he’s probably not too shaken up about it. From Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal:

OK, so, Pedroia doesn’t hold a record that’s somewhere below 762 home runs and 511 wins on the scale of baseball importance. Boo and/or hoo.

What he does have, though, is a .320 batting average. That ties Pedroia with Betts for tops on the Red Sox, and it puts him behind only Jose Altuve in the entire American League. That’s pretty good company, and it can’t just be me that feels like Pedroia has joined these ranks out of nowhere.

It’s not that he’s been a bad player. Pedroia undeniably peaked with his American League MVP season in 2008, a year in which he was every kind of great. But he’s been consistently good ever since then. Despite a fair number of games missed with injuries, he put up a .294 average and an .803 OPS between 2009 and 2015, adding three more Gold Gloves to his collection in the process. And this year, he’s been a rock-solid presence in an outstanding Red Sox lineup from day one.

Rather, Pedroia‘s under-the-radar act to this point is more a matter of optics. 

He’s surrounded by players who boast both great numbers and great narratives. Big Papi is a larger-than-life character in any year, and he’s making life look especially puny with a farewell season for the ages. Meanwhile, Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley and, recently, Andrew Benintendi have been cementing themselves as the Red Sox’s stars of the future.

Pedroia is neither a legendary slugger in his final season nor a young up-and-comer gearing up for many great seasons still to come. He’s just…well, he’s kinda just Dustin Pedroia. Same as he ever was.

But while it may indeed be difficult to appreciate Pedroia as a story unto himself, it’s as easy as ever to appreciate him as a player.

If nothing else, the fact that he’s been healthy throughout 2016 has allowed him to be his usual self on an everyday basis. That’s been rare in recent years. However, you don’t go from being a .290-ish hitter to a .320 hitter without at least one new trick. Pedroia knew what his was going to be before 2016 even started.

“He told me, ‘I’m going to use the whole field this year. I’m going to be a better hitter this year,'” Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis told John Tomase of WEEI.com, referencing an offseason conversation. “And he stuck with it in practice. He stuck with it in spring training. And he’s sticking with it now.”

The proof is in Pedroia‘s opposite-field hit rate. FanGraphs had it at 32.9 percent heading into Saturday, the highest of his career. Because visual aids are fun, this leads us to a pretty-looking spray chart from Brooks Baseball:

Matt Collins of Baseball Prospectus posited this could be related to how Pedroia has changed his approach against breaking balls. It’s a fine theory, as Pedroia has indeed been hitting more breaking balls the other way.

These aren’t earth-shattering changes, but they’re really all Pedroia needed to go from being a good hitter back to being a great hitter. He could already work pitchers, posting above-average walk rates and below-average strikeout rates. And his swing itself has always been made for line drives and generally harder contact than you’d expect from a guy who would look right at home in the cubicle next to you.

As the Red Sox get closer to what they hope will be a return to the postseason, Pedroia‘s well-rounded hitting is only looming larger. He was doing fine as a No. 2 hitter. He’s been doing a lot better than fine since manager John Farrell moved him to leadoff on August 10, batting .459 in 18 games. Not so coincidentally, the Red Sox’s offense has experienced an uptick in the last two weeks.

Meanwhile, what Pedroia is doing on the other side of the ball is not to be overlooked.

The defensive metrics aren’t right all the time, but their poor ratings for Pedroia in 2015 did reflect what was a strangely off year with the glove. But this year, he’s once again looking and rating as arguably the best second baseman in the sport.

With all this in mind, let’s check in on the latest Red Sox wins above replacement rankings from FanGraphs:

  1. Mookie Betts: 6.5
  2. Dustin Pedroia: 4.6
  3. Jackie Bradley Jr.: 4.2
  4. Xander Bogaerts: 3.9
  5. David Ortiz: 3.8

He’s not on Betts’ level (few are), but Pedroia is the next best thing the Red Sox have. Getting 11 straight hits has sure helped his cause, but getting it done day in, day out and as good as ever is a much greater influence on why he’s there.

It’s been hard to notice until now, but you know what they say about late being better than never.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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