Patience With Pedroia

Sure, the choice looks easy:

Player A
.180/.306/.230 (.536 OPS)
Player B
.406/.441/.813 (1.254 OPS)

Now, let’s do some tweaking:

Player A
.262/.375/.311 (.686 OPS)
Player B
.281/.324/.688 (1.012 OPS)

Well, it’s closer, at least. Player A, of course, is Dustin Pedroia, whose struggles have led some to question why he isn’t platooned with, or lifted entirely for, Alex Cora, who is Player B.

The first set of numbers is their respective lines entering play today. The second adjusts for their Batting Average on Balls In
Play (BABIP).

BABIP is a tricky beast, Almost all pitchers even out to about .290
averages on the balls hit against them (not including home runs, which
are not part of the formula). The idea is that any significant swings
from the .290 mean is the result of luck. Hitters are different. A
hitter in his career can have season-long BABIPs around .350 or around .250. Even
so, a BABIP that deviates from that range is probably because of dumb luck —
for example, of 75 qualified AL players last year, only Derek Jeter had
a BABIP higher than .370, and only five players were higher than .350.
Conversely, not one of the 75 was lower than .251, and only four hitters
were below .270.

With that in mind, Dustin Pedroia’s BABIP this season is a
ridculously low .208 (boosted by his 1-for-3 night Thursday). Alex Cora’s is on the other end of the pendulum: .423 (sent into the stratosphere by his 3-for-3 night Friday). Hitters’ BABIPs can
certainly vary. As has been discussed, Manny Ramirez and Derek Jeter
are consistently above league average. Pedroia is a rookie, of course,
so we don’t know where his BABIP ultimately will lie — but the betting is that it won’t be anywhere close to .200. I gave him a
conservative .290 estimate, where Ramon Hernandez, Mike Lowell and
Kenji Johjima resided last season. Cora’s career BABIP is .269.

(Projecting Pedroia with a slightly lucky .310 BABIP pushes his line to .279/.389/.328, for what it’s worth).

Clearly,
Pedroia benefits greatly from the BABIP adjustment, even if the hits we add are only singles. Cora’s
slugging is still impressive, thanks to his two homers and three triples,
but his on-base percentage tumbles precipitously.

Suffice it to say that Alex Cora still looks very good, even were he to be hitting the ball closer to his career norms. He’s simply incredibly hot, and no number of statistical adjustments is going to make Dustin Pedroia (or many others) look as good as Alex Cora right now.

But looking at Cora’s time in Boston, this is not unheard of. Last year, used judiciously in the early going by Terry
Francona, he went on a month-long tear, from mid-June to mid-July. Those
totals, in 17 games: .419/.519/.465 in 43 at bats. From July 22 to the
end of the season, however, he hit .173/.222/.228 in 127 at
bats. Cora played in his 17th game of the season Friday. He has 32 at bats.

All this to say: Dustin Pedroia has been extremely unlucky. His
line drive percentage of 18.9 percent, though down from his September
callup, is very healthy (equal to Johnny Damon and Kenji Johjima last
season), while his ground-ball/fly-ball ratio is nearly 1:1. He’s on pace to walk 81 times and strike out just 51 times. His batting eye is clearly still good.

The numbers make it pretty clear it would be a mistake for the Red Sox to so soon abandon Pedroia in
favor of Cora, as has been intimated in several places. Cora is best
served, and performs best, as a role player getting at bats every few
days. Pedroia’s luck is bound to turn — and the sample sizes are still
small enough where one hit can swing his averages by as much as 15
points.

My advice (because I know the Sox were asking for it): They should be patient with the rookie. We’ll be glad they did.

8 comments… add one
  • Agreed completely.
    The kid can play.

    Steve May 5, 2007, 9:45 am
  • And when Cora crashes, it’s not going to be pretty. Those numbers will likely return to his career .240/.310 with zero power.
    Play the hot hand, but cash in your chips while you’re still playing with house money.

    Steve May 5, 2007, 9:50 am
  • I hope that Pedroia gets hot soon, before a groundswell builds to replace him with Cora. I don’t want Pedroia to be yet another player that we trade, only to compete for ROY (Hanley Ramirez) and batting titles (Freddy Sanchez) on another team.

    Andrew F May 5, 2007, 11:05 am
  • I don’t think Pedroia will ever be a superstar, but he should be more than good enough to start for quite a few years.
    Most teams would take a .295/.370 line with hard line drive power and a few dingers (5-10) from their second baseman, I fully believe that’s what Pedroia’s capable of.

    Steve May 5, 2007, 11:16 am
  • “Play the hot hand, but cash in your chips while you’re still playing with house money.”
    Exactly. I would think this is what Tito and Theo are thinking. We have no other options at 2B, unless we make a trade. I think they’ll give Pedroia the time to figure it out. But if he’s still @ .200 in July (I don’t think he will be), I could see us going out to get Graffanino or Loretta.

    Tyrel SF May 5, 2007, 1:43 pm
  • “Play the hot hand, but cash in your chips while you’re still playing with house money.”
    Nuf Ced.

    I'm Bill McNeal May 5, 2007, 2:44 pm
  • I’ve been wondering this myself.
    I can’t see Graffanino or Loretta being available anytime soon. Certainly not Graff with the Brewers in first place (the best record in the NL, no less.?!)
    Loretta, you can bet the price will be steep, but Houston stinks right now.

    I'm Bill McNeal May 5, 2007, 2:46 pm
  • There’s another, non-statistical but purely ‘baseball fan’, reason not to give Cora that starting 2nd baseman job or such.
    Voodoo. Mojo.
    I don’t know how many people beleive in such thigns… I usually do not. The exceptions are baseball and theatre. When it comes to baseball, your darn right I’m the guy who turns his hat inside out and backwards when we’re down in late. I did it durign the 8th in Baltimore and Wily Mo hit his grand slam. Realistically, I know it had nothing to do with Wily’s hit.. but.. still… I buy into mojo in baseball.
    My point? Alex Cora is hitting over .400 as a backup player. He is playing PHENOMINAL baseball. Right now, I don’t want anythign about the way we use to him to change for fear of screwing up whatever is workign for him. Taking out his mojo. He’s obviously in a groove and the Sox should do nothing to alter it.

    Dionysus May 5, 2007, 3:06 pm

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