It’s time for another installment of the Hall of Pretty Damn Good Players — our tribute to the athletes who won’t be in the Hall of Fame, but who still had a lasting effect on the history of their sport. In this edition, we salute a recently retired player who overcame his short stature and lack of impressive athleticism as a prospect to emerge as one of baseball’s most valuable all-around players at his peak: former Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
|Category||Value||Rank at Pos.|
|Black Ink Test||11||15|
|Gray Ink Test||70||22|
|Years on ballot||—||—|
Pedroia didn’t exactly come out of nowhere to become an MLB star — after a stellar college career at Arizona State, he was taken in the second round of the 2004 draft, ahead of a number of fellow All-Stars, including Ben Zobrist and Lorenzo Cain. But he was still a bit of a long shot, coming in at 77th in Baseball America’s 2006 prospect rankings despite strong numbers for his age in the minors.1 Why? Pedroia is small (5-foot-9 is probably a charitable measurement), and scouts doubted his power, speed and defensive potential. As the publication put it at the time, “Pedroia represents one extreme of the tools vs. performance debate. He’s not physically gifted, but he wins.”
(That’s fitting, since Pedroia would later be quoted in FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver’s book, saying: “I’m a guy who doesn’t care about numbers and stats. … All I care about is W’s and L’s. I care about wins and losses. Nothing else matters to me.”)
Pedroia didn’t do much to dispel the scouts’ skepticism after being called up to the Red Sox in August 2006. In 31 games down the stretch of the regular season, Pedroia hit just .191 with a .561 OPS, below-average defense and -0.9 wins above replacement.2 But Boston’s regular second baseman, veteran Mark Loretta, wasn’t much more than a stopgap (0.5 WAR despite leading the team in plate appearances), and the Red Sox missed the playoffs just two years after winning the World Series. So Pedroia was given another chance as the 2007 season began — and he took full advantage of it, making his doubters look very foolish in the process.
Starting at second, Pedroia hit .317 with an .823 OPS, played solid defense and was one of the most valuable players on a stacked Red Sox team (ranking sixth on the roster with 3.8 WAR). For that regular-season effort, Pedroia won the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award; he also led Boston in postseason plate appearances, putting up an .865 OPS as the Red Sox once again won the World Series. It was as storybook a rookie season as you could draw up, particularly considering where the expectations were set going into it.
But Pedroia had even more surprises up his sleeve going forward. In 2008, he took a big leap, becoming Boston’s best player by WAR (with 6.7) and winning the AL’s Most Valuable Player Award. Pedroia did it with big improvements in the areas scouts had considered his greatest weaknesses — power and defense — by more than doubling his home run total from eight to 17 and becoming one of the better defensive second basemen in the league. (He ranked fifth at the position in defensive value3 behind only Adam Kennedy, Brandon Phillips, Mark Ellis and fellow HoPDGP member Chase Utley.) This began a stretch in which Pedroia had at least 4.7 WAR five times in the span of six seasons, a prime run that saw him rank fifth among all MLB position players in total value:
|Runs Above Avg.|
|A. Pujols||1B||STL, LAA||+257||-12||-20||34.9|
|A. Beltre||3B||SEA, BOS, TEX||+108||-1||+78||32.2|
|M. Holliday||LF||COL, OAK, STL||+201||+3||-36||28.9|
From 2008 to 2013, Pedroia also started in 471 wins for Boston, 10th-most in baseball, helping to underscore his laser-like focus on the W’s and L’s. And of course, in the final year of that span, Pedroia was the best WAR producer on yet another Boston championship team, joining a fascinating club of players who led championship efforts this century.
|Best Batter||Best Pitcher|
|2000||Yankees||Jorge Posada||5.8||Roger Clemens||4.1|
|2001||Diamondbacks||Luis Gonzalez||8.4||Randy Johnson||10.3|
|2002||Angels||Darin Erstad||5.0||Jarrod Washburn||4.4|
|2003||Marlins||Luis Castillo||4.7||Mark Redman||4.0|
|2004||Red Sox||Johnny Damon||4.3||Curt Schilling||7.1|
|2005||White Sox||Paul Konerko||3.9||Mark Buehrle||5.4|
|2006||Cardinals||Albert Pujols||8.3||Chris Carpenter||5.1|
|2007||Red Sox||David Ortiz||6.3||Josh Beckett||6.1|
|2008||Phillies||Chase Utley||8.6||Cole Hamels||4.5|
|2009||Yankees||Derek Jeter||6.6||CC Sabathia||6.0|
|2010||Giants||Andres Torres||5.8||Matt Cain||4.0|
|2011||Cardinals||Albert Pujols||4.6||Chris Carpenter||4.0|
|2012||Giants||Buster Posey||8.8||Matt Cain||3.5|
|2013||Red Sox||Dustin Pedroia||5.5||Clay Buchholz||3.5|
|2014||Giants||Buster Posey||6.3||Madison Bumgarner||3.6|
|2015||Royals||Lorenzo Cain||6.6||Wade Davis||2.8|
|2016||Cubs||Kris Bryant||7.6||Jon Lester||4.9|
|2017||Astros||Jose Altuve||7.6||Brad Peacock||3.1|
|2018||Red Sox||Mookie Betts||10.5||Chris Sale||6.5|
|2019||Nationals||Anthony Rendon||6.7||Max Scherzer||6.1|
|2020||Dodgers||Mookie Betts||3.3||Tony Gonsolin||1.6|
Much like Utley, his second base contemporary and National League counterpart, Pedroia did a bunch of big and little things well, adding up to a ton of value. Although his uncanny vision and eye-hand coordination were his greatest natural gifts,4 for much of his prime, Pedroia was average or better in essentially every aspect of the game, top to bottom — including those aforementioned categories that were supposed to be the flaws in his skill set.
It wasn’t until age and injuries caught up with him that Pedroia started to slide noticeably in the areas to which he wasn’t naturally predisposed. Limited to just 361 games in his final five seasons, Pedroia did give the Red Sox one last flash of his greatness in 2016, with 5.2 WAR as Boston won 93 games and captured the AL East title. But he was not a factor at all in the Red Sox’s 2018 championship run, playing only three total games as Eduardo Núñez, Brock Holt and former college teammate Ian Kinsler replaced him at second base. By the age of 35 in 2019, Pedroia had played his last major league game.
Pedroia’s peak value of 38.9 WAR in his best seven seasons isn’t far from the average of 43.5 for second basemen already in Cooperstown, and his championship pedigree is still probably worth something in the minds of Hall of Fame voters. But longevity (or rather, the lack thereof) will likely limit his Hall support once he’s eligible. With only 49.1 career WAR — of which just 10.1 came outside his peak seasons — Pedroia’s total falls 17.2 wins shy of the average standard for Hall of Fame second basemen. And based on voters’ reactions to traditional statistical markers and accomplishments,5 a player with Pedroia’s resume should expect to have only about a 19 percent chance of getting the Cooperstown call.
Still, Pedroia was a significant player in our current era of baseball. Although David Ortiz was the Red Sox’s spiritual leader throughout their 21st-century franchise renaissance, Pedroia was the engine that helped drive the team’s late-2000s/early-2010s successes. A part of Boston’s system throughout this time, he was also effectively a bridge between the 2004 curse-breaking Red Sox team and the 2018 version led by later stars such as Mookie Betts. That still probably won’t be enough for a Hall of Fame nod, but it made for a damn good career filled with plenty of W’s.