Dustin Pedroia Could Win the Batting Title

Dustin Pedroia is still the beating heart of this Red Sox team. Sure, Mookie Betts is now the defining star, and David Ortiz will always be the ultimate hero. But nobody embodies the spirit and fight of Boston baseball quite like the scrappy second baseman. And with just under three weeks remaining, Pedey has a legitimate shot at becoming the American League batting champion, a fitting tribute to his remarkable resurgence.

Dustin Pedroia

Nowadays, batting average is sneered at. Led by statisticians, many people consider it an inferior metric for gauging performance. It’s too one-dimensional, they say. It only takes into account one skill, rather than four or five. In this age of Statcast, where every aspect of baseball is calculated and scrutinized, I understand the concern. Yet batting average remains one of the most instantly recognizable measurements of talent, if not the most accurate.

We’re all supposed to worship at the altar of Wins Above Replacement, but few casual fans even know how it’s calculated. WAR offers no concise moment of greatness, such as when a hitter slugs his 500th career home run or notches his 3,000th hit. So, to me, batting average and other traditional numbers still have a pretty special place in the game, even if their utility has been surpassed by newer, sexier metrics.

The Resurgence of Dustin Pedroia

Therefore, what Dustin Pedroia is doing fascinates me. At 33, the ultimate grinder is having one of his best ever seasons. Pedroia has a .332/.391/.465 slash line with 13 home runs, 34 doubles and 66 RBI. Judging by OPS, a catch-all stat for offensive performance, this is his best campaign since 2011. In terms of WAR, it’s already his best since 2013, with eighteen games remaining. When all is said and done, Dustin Pedroia may not receive MVP consideration, but his importance to the Red Sox cannot be overstated.

Numbers simply don’t do the guy justice. However, one number, that .332 batting average, is particularly intriguing. Right now, only Jose Altuve, the Houston Astros’ hitting machine, has a higher average in the American League. Altuve presently sits at .340, making for a tight race and interesting subplot in the final weeks of an enthralling season.

In Pursuit of History

Bill Mueller was the last Red Sox player to win a batting title. The third baseman did so with a .326 mark in 2003. It may be difficult for Dustin Pedroia to haul back an eight-point disadvantage this late in the season and follow in Mueller’s footsteps, but stranger things have happened. All it takes is for one hot streak to coincide with a rare skid for Altuve, and one of the greatest players in Red Sox history would add another historic achievement to his resume.

While the batting title may have lost some of its prestige, there’s still a certain charm to its history. It’s one of the oldest awards in the game, one that Ty Cobb lusted after so violently in a different age. For that reason, that sense of tradition, we should root for Dustin Pedroia to win the batting crown. I can hardly think of a more deserving recipient.

Relying Less on Analytics Will Benefit Players Like Bradley Jr.

John Henry’s recent comments about the team’s reliance of analytics came as a shock to many, especially since the team has employed Bill James since 2003, the father of saber metrics who was made famous by the book Moneyball and its subsequent film.
analytics
The Boston Sunday Globe quoted one scout who, after hearing Henry’s declaration said, “Finally, someone who realizes that human beings play the game, not numbers…” While in many cases analytics has proven to be a very useful tool that owners have used to build championship teams, focusing less on the numbers could bode well for players like Jackie Bradley Jr., whose own numbers do not capture his talent and potential.

Many saw Bradley Jr.’s performance in the 2014 and 2015 seasons as promising but inconsistent. But if you set his numbers aside for a minute, you see a 2014 Gold Glove nomination. In fact, Bradley Jr.’s defense led Red Sox great Bill Lee to say in August 2015 that he reminded him of Willie Mays from the waist down. That same month, Bradley Jr. became one of only eight players to accumulate five extra-base hits in one game. In a match against the Seattle Mariners, Bradley Jr. hit two home runs and three doubles in six at bats as the Red Sox won 22-10. So does Bradley Jr.’s 2015 .249 batting average represent his abilities? I think not. Now that the Red Sox are taking a step back from analytics, there will be opportunities for people to focus more on what qualities Bradley Jr. does posses that can’t be categorized using analytics. This step back will be good for other players like Brock Holt and Rusney Castillo, players whose true potential may be unfairly overshadowed by analytics.

Should We Toss Analytics Aside Altogether?

I’m not saying that analytics should be completely discarded. After all, it played a role in the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004 after an eighty-six year drought. But focus on numbers, statistics, and projections has done a lot to drain the humanity and excitement out of the game. When I see Bradley Jr. take the field next season, I won’t be thinking about the previous season’s batting average, or what Bill James’ thinks his batting average will be. I’ll be thinking about whether I’ll be lucky enough to see Bradley Jr. make an outstanding defensive play.

Analytics remind me of a story about my time in graduate school. One of my professors told me that the best indication of how well a student will do in graduate school, is to see how well they actually do in graduate school. In other words grades, GPA, and test scores can only do so much to predict how someone will do. Seeing how they actually do in a graduate class is the true indicator of someone’s abilities. With that said, we should follow John Henry’s lead and step back from analytics so that we can focus more on what we see on the field, instead of what we read in a statistical analysis. After all, it’s possible that Bradley Jr.’s performance this upcoming season could blow the lid off any predictions anyone’s made using analytics.