When you're a second baseman and you hit nearly .300, belt 15 homers, drive in 72 runs, reach base in 37 percent of your plate appearances and maintain a nearly perfect fielding percentage in your third year in the majors – and it's considered a "down year" – that says more about what you did in those first two years than anything else.
Such is the case with Dustin Pedroia, who created a tough act for himself to follow after winning a Rookie of the Year award, Gold Glove, AL MVP award and, oh yeah, a World Series trophy in his first 300 or so games of his big league career.
Still just 26 years old, Pedroia's rapidly morphing into a veteran on the Red Sox, and with Jason Bay's departure from the lineup leaving a hole in offensive production, he'll have to pick up some of the slack.
"Everyone is going to have good at-bats and put them together in a row to score a lot of runs," Pedroia told The Boston Globe earlier this spring. "We'll do that. We'll be better than a lot of people think."
If Pedroia needs any inspiration, all he has to do is look to his left. With Kevin Youkilis at first base, Pedroia has a model of consistency next to him in the field. At the plate, Youkilis has stepped up his game more and more each year, developing from a patient contact hitter into a patient power hitter. Together, they are the future of the Red Sox' lineup, but they can still learn a lot from each other.
Another benefit for Pedroia will be the comfort of knowing his spot. He'll be penciled into the No. 2 spot of Terry Francona's lineup card about 150 times this summer, and he won't have to change much to get back to an MVP-caliber season.
Regarding Pedroia, the perception that 2009 was a year of regression is largely off base. Yes, his batting average dropped 30 points (from .326 to .296), but the rest of his numbers across the board remained at, near or better than those from 2008. Here's a look at the numbers:
There are also some fair explanations as to why Pedroia didn't take major strides forward statistically in 2009. One was that he was asked to bat leadoff for 25 games, and it was a position in which he clearly struggled. With Jacoby Ellsbury experiencing his own troubles atop the order, Francona called upon Pedroia to fill in, just as he did the previous year in the cleanup spot. Batting cleanup for a few games in '08, Pedroia crushed it. Batting leadoff in '09, he didn't.
Pedroia batted just .219 in the top spot, striking out eight times and walking 10. The strikeout-to-walk comparison was far off his total numbers for the year, and it was clear the change in approach did not suit him well.
Yet even more difficult to overcome than something as simple as a changing spot in the batting order were the off-the-field issues Pedroia dealt with. His wife, Kelli, was having pregnancy complications that kept him from going to his second consecutive All-Star Game. He and his family also became targets of ridicule and hate mail, due to Pedroia's comments about his hometown and the arrest and subsequent conviction of his brother.
"It was tough," Pedroia recently told ESPN.com. "I dealt with a lot of [stuff] last year. My biggest thing was, you just got to find a way to get through it. When I got to the yard, I tried to concentrate on baseball. When I got home, I had to do all I could to keep everything under control, or at least make it seem like it was under control."
Now, his off-the-field distractions have been cleared, and he should be ready to take steps forward in 2010. The transition from overperforming youngster to reliable veteran is a tall task, but Pedroia's made a living out of answering those calls.
From now until Opening Day, NESN.com will run down 25 things that need to happen for the Red Sox to win the World Series.
March 15: Have a healthy resolution to the Mike Lowell situation.