In his short but illustrious career, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has done it all. He's been Rookie of the Year and won an MVP award, a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger. He's been an All-Star and won a World Series. And he's done it all while being "too small" for Major League Baseball.
As Sox fans will tell you, it's not that he's particularly great at any one thing. He's not a true power hitter and doesn't have blazing speed, and his arm, while strong, is hardly a cannon. Pedroia doesn't have one dominant skill; he simply does everything well.
At the moment, he's suffering through one of the poorer stretches of his career, and that's a cause for concern. Pedroia has always been a bit of a streaky player and has had bad months before, but April and May of 2011 have been especially unkind. After getting off to a briefly solid start, Pedroia began sputtering. Through the team's first nine games he was hitting .400 with a 1.019 OPS. By the end of April, he was hitting a measly .255, and his OPS was down to .730.
The situation has worsened during May, a month that has seen him hit only .235. While teammates like Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Kevin Youkilis have gotten themselves on track, helping the team climb to within half a game of first place in the AL East, Pedroia's slump has only intensified. If not for Crawford's heavily publicized struggles, Pedroia's uncharacteristically bad numbers would have been a major story by now.
Instead, the media has been largely content to follow the newcomers as they adjust to the Boston lineup. Gonzalez has made himself a focal point with an explosive few weeks that put him atop the league in RBI. Crawford has been squarely in the media spotlight for some time due to his lack of production and inability to fit effectively into the lineup.
Meanwhile, Pedroia has been in the background, faltering badly. Though his woes have received relatively little attention, they are still alarming.
But before I get to the bad news, I'll point out that Pedroia is doing some things very well. He's drawing walks at a record pace, already up to 32 through 214 plate appearances. He's on pace to finish with more than 100 on the season, which would obliterate his previous best of 74.
He's also stealing bases frequently and effectively. With nine swipes in 11 attempts, he's on pace to finish with around 30 stolen bases. That would also be a career high.
But Pedroia is hitting roughly 50 points below his normal average. He's demonstrated a disturbing lack of power in his swing, and his .313 slugging percentage is about 130 points worse than his career low. Despite the extra walks, his .362 on-base percentage is lower than any season total he's had since becoming a full-time player.
Granted, we're still dealing with a small sample size of at-bats here, and Pedroia could certainly snap out of this at any point. Seeing him put together a blistering June wouldn't be surprising at all. But until he shows signs of life, the Red Sox should be worried.
Pedroia is on pace to finish with career lows in doubles and home runs. His swing is not connecting well, and there's nothing to indicate that he's been unlucky. His .294 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is right in line with prior totals.
Traditionally, his slumps haven't lasted this long. 2007's horrid April (.544 OPS) was followed by a torrid May (1.072 OPS). 2009's lousy June (.569) was erased by a fantastic July (.902). Last year's ugly May (.659) was forgotten by June (1.075). When Pedroia stumbles, he routinely bounces back with a hot streak.
In fact, he had only one other set of consecutive months that approached his current level of futility. April and May of 2008 (plus two games in March) represented 58 games played for Pedroia. He finished May with the following totals:
Sixteen doubles, 33 runs, four HR, 28 RBI and a slash line of .281/.321/.397
Compare that to his 2011 pace, which, assuming he plays the remaining seven games through the end of May, would look like this:
Seven doubles, 29 runs, two HR, 13 RBI and a slash line of .246/.362/.313
Pedroia's increased walk rate is just about all that's keeping his production alive. In past years, his bad months have typically been followed by offensive surges that helped get his overall numbers back in line. We have yet to see that this season.
Pedroia has accomplished more than enough over the years to earn the benefit of the doubt, and this Red Sox lineup is good enough to carry a couple of struggling players. But if his drought continues into June, then the Red Sox could be facing a serious problem.
If he can't hit, Pedroia will have to be dropped in the order, demoted for the first time since becoming an everyday guy. The Sox aren't there yet, of course, but it could be Terry Francona's only option if Pedroia is unable to turn things around.
Watch for an uptick in his extra-base hits as May winds down and June begins. If Pedroia begins making solid contact, he has the skills to get hot quickly. This slump might be nothing but a memory by mid June. On the other hand, we could well be witnessing the 27-year-old's worst first half ever, and that's a scary thought.