Dustin Pedroia's first full season in the majors saw the Red Sox win a World Series and Pedroia win Rookie of the Year. His second year saw him bring home a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and, oh yeah, the American League MVP.
Pedroia's MVP season in 2008 season was glorious. He led the American League in hits, runs and doubles. What ever he couldn't provide, Kevin Youkilis did. Youk drove in 115 runs and finished third in the MVP balloting, only the Twins' Justin Morneau keeping the Red Sox from a one-two finish.
Looking past the disappointing 2009 campaign begs the question: Can Pedroia find that magic again?
Even at his best, many of the things the second baseman does well don’t correspond well to MVP votes. Sure, you need scrappers to win baseball games, but they don’t often bring home too much hardware. Not everyone with a vote can watch 162 games, so baseball, more than any other sport, comes down to the cold, hard stats.
Even though baseball is the most individual of the big four sports in the U.S. players can't get numbers without a team behind them. Much like a slugger can't get RBIs unless someone's on base, a baserunner can't score runs without someone driving him in (Jacoby Ellsbury excluded).
Runs have been Pedroia's most noteworthy stat since coming up to the majors. In 2008, he had Manny Ramirez/Jason Bay, David Ortiz, a healthy Mike Lowell and Youkilis' career year driving him in. Youk might still be there, but in 2010, Pedroia's main support is Ortiz on his last legs, Lowell on the pair after his last legs and the Manny/Bay half-year time share replaced by 37-year-old Mike Cameron.
Cameron once had four home runs in a game, but that was in 2002. New third baseman Adrian Beltre had a 48-dinger, 121-RBI season, but that was in a contract year in 2004. More than their offense, the two were brought in for defense. Cameron has won three Gold Gloves in his career while Beltre has taken home two of the last three at third.
The Red Sox are now a team predicated on pitching and defense. They have three possible No. 1 starters in Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and John Lackey, plus two other guys with top-of-the-rotation stuff in Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. If that's not enough, they have a possible swingman in Tim Wakefield, who still can provide plenty of quality innings, since knuckleballers age about as fast as Richard Alpert on Lost.
Pedroia is a high average guy who gets on base, scores runs and plays defense. Is it effective? Hell yeah. Is it sexy? If you rank the annual Baseball Prospectus release ahead of the SI swimsuit issue, then maybe, but it's not the traditional type of game that wins MVPs.
Look at the last MVP the Red Sox had before Pedroia: Maurice Samuel Vaughn.
Mo Vaughn's game was the ultimate in sexy baseball statistics. Thirty-nine home runs, 126 RBIs, a .300 batting average and the unofficial record for most Fenway Franks consumed in a single nine-inning game. Now that's a statline the casual fan can get behind. Vaughn's MVP came in 1995 at the age of 27. Pedroia turns 27 this August, right when his MVP campaign could be heating up.
For a player like Pedroia to come away with the MVP requires a more complex recipe than Vaughn's pattern of see the ball, hit the ball, then hit the post-game spread. Guys that don't put up power numbers have their campaign even more strongly tied to team success than usual.
For Pedroia to win the MVP again, he has to put up numbers on par with 2008, if not better. The Red Sox need to find themselves in the playoffs. And perhaps most importantly may be the hope that there is no other dominant candidate like Albert Pujols has been in the National League the past few years.
Savvy and instincts can win you the hearts of fans, and as Pedroia showed, with a little luck, it can maybe even win you an MVP. To do that twice? That’s a tall order for the 5-foot-9 Pedroia.
Everything worked out for Pedroia in 2008, but an MVP in 2010 will be like climbing Mt. Everest a second time. If he can get it done, he would be only the third second baseman to win the MVP twice, joining Hall of Famers Joe Morgan and Rogers Hornsby.
The Red Sox have had an AL MVP in every decade since the 1930's when Jimmie Foxx brought the award back to Beantown. Pedroia and Red Sox fans alike wouldn't mind if the franchise kept that streak going with nine years to spare.
NESN.com will be answering one Red Sox question every day through Feb. 23.
Saturday, Feb. 6: Will Marco Scutaro break the Red Sox' shortstop jinx?
Monday, Feb. 8: How will Victor Martinez handle the pitching staff?