Dustin Pedroia is hitting a ton of ground balls in the early part of the season, contributing to the fact that he’s now hit into four double plays and possesses just two extra-base hits (both doubles) through 12 games in which he’s hit .275/.327/.314.
To date, 53.7 percent of the balls Pedroia has put in play have been grounders, the highest rate of his career. In a vacuum, 12 games would represent little more than a blip. That said, Pedroia’s ground ball rates have been on a steady upward path over multiple years – the twofold product of his hand injuries and pitchers who attack him with increasing frequency low and away. Even last year, when his hands were healthy, Pedroia’s 50.5 percent ground ball rate ranked in the top 20th percentile of hitters.
The development has considerable implications for the type of hitter Pedroia can be. The less frequently Pedroia can pull the ball in the air at Fenway, the less he can bang doubles off the Wall (or homers over it).
That said, there are players who are highly effective even with high ground ball rates. After all, grounders more often translate into base hits than fly balls (though Fenway alters that equation a bit), helping to explain why Xander Bogaerts was in the hunt for a batting title even though he ranked in the top 10 percent of big leaguers in ground ball rate.
Moreover, it’s worth noting that even with his ground ball rate of 2015, Pedroia posted a slugging percentage that was in line with his performances with much lower groundball rates in 2007 and 2009 (in a season where the league as a whole had a lower slugging percentage than in those earlier years of his career).
It’s premature to say that 2016 will represent a continuation of Pedroia’s increasing frequency of ground ball contact. Pedroia certainly was mindful of the earliness of the season in dismissing a question about the Sox’ inability to capitalize on their bases-loaded opportunity against Smyly.
“We play 162 games. We’re going to do that again,” he said. “We’re also going to score nine one inning. Pump the brakes on that.”
Yet while it’s premature to draw conclusions, it’s possible, even at this early stage of the season, to identify intriguing patterns that merit subsequent attention. Pedroia’s groundball rate seems to qualify.
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.