Mookie Betts homers on a fly ball to left-center field. Dustin Pedroia scores.
Mookie Betts homers on a fly ball to left field. Dustin Pedroia scores. Brock Holt scores.
Mookie Betts homers on a fly ball to left field. Andrew Benintendi scores. Dustin Pedroia scores.
Betts — now firmly in the middle of the American League MVP race while on pace for 36 homers, 127 runs, 117 RBIs, 25 steals, a .313/.353/.561 line, and an 8.0 Wins Above Replacement season — is not the only common denominator of that equation.
It has been just five games since Pedroia moved to the leadoff spot, permitting Betts to shift to the middle of the order, too early to draw firm conclusions, particularly after three games against a Diamondbacks team that served chiefly as a speed bump over the weekend. Still, the early view of the reconfigured Red Sox lineup highlights both the logic of the change and, perhaps even more notably, the excellent all-around work of Pedroia this year.
On Sunday, Pedroia went 5 for 6 with a double and the aforementioned three trots home on Betts homers. It was the fifth five-hit game of his career, most in Red Sox history.
“This is one of the best organizations in baseball,” Pedroia told reporters. “I’m definitely proud of that.”
That handful of hits improved Pedroia to 11 for 22 in his five games in the leadoff spot this year, while boosting his line to .373/.403/.524 from the leadoff spot since the beginning of 2015. He has the best average in the majors from the lineup’s top spot in that time (minimum 100 plate appearances) and a top-three OBP and slugging mark from it.
“Five out of six isn’t bad,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters after the game. “When we made this move, there was some thought that if Mookie’s going to stay on the power run that he’s on, maybe it’s got a chance to be with some people on base.
“[Pedroia] hasn’t changed his approach. He’s getting a number of base hits the other way. He’s taking what the pitcher is giving him. He’s getting on base. He’s not thinking anything other than the at-bats, not as they’re attached to the spot in the lineup.”
In other words, Pedroia’s consistency from the leadoff spot has remained true to his broader body of work this year. The Red Sox have scored more runs than any other team in the majors, yet they have done so while seeing nearly every full-time player endure at least some performance wobble. Pedroia has been the exception.
He has hit at least .294 in every month this season. He has an OBP of at least .360 every month. He leads big league second basemen with 10 Defensive Runs Saved (as calculated by Baseball Info Solutions). His all-around game has him ranked among the half-dozen most valuable second basemen in the game.
Pedroia’s performance has been overshadowed — not unfairly — by the dazzling performance of Betts and the history-making swan song of David Ortiz. And there have been some rough edges to his game, including the fact that he has grounded into 19 double plays (second most in the majors) — despite the fact that he’s hitting .403 in all situations with a runner on first base.
He no longer represents the base-stealing threat that he did earlier in his career. But he’s been a steadying constant in the lineup, a table-setter and occasional table-clearer who now is being asked to remain focused on the former rather than the latter.
That he is doing so in order to accommodate Betts’s move down the order has some symbolic significance. It was, after all, just over two years ago that Betts represented the best second base prospect in the minors, opening speculation about whether the Sox might one day consider moving Pedroia to accommodate the up-and-coming phenom. The Red Sox decided they’d be better keeping both.
Now, a similar scenario is unfolding with Yoan Moncada rising through the ranks. Once again, the Red Sox remain committed to the notion that they should continue to build around a proven championship-caliber second baseman, with Moncada getting exposed to an alternate position (in this case, third base).
Pedroia is not an MVP candidate this year, nor is he the most valuable member on his team. Yet his value to the 2016 Red Sox remains enormous, particularly in his current role as lineup catalyst.