It is nothing new to suggest that Pedroia can crush a fastball, particularly those thrown inside on him. Amazingly, pitchers still try to sneak heaters by him, often with poor results. Those results might increase in the coming year. With the specter of Gonzalez looming in the on-deck circle, electing to challenge Pedroia may be one of a handful of options, and not a good one.
Every so often over the past couple of seasons, as the No. 3 hitter in the Red Sox lineup has been up and down (you will recall David Ortiz's rocky starts) the offerings coming Pedroia's way have changed a bit. It hasn't been dramatic, but in some cases, particularly against left-handers, the second baseman has seen junk from time to time. If you are a southpaw, why waste your bullets on Pedroia when Ortiz — who has suffered a dramatic fall-off in his production vs. lefties — can be had?
Pedroia, perhaps because of this scenario, has had the same sort of decline. Reaching for some of that junk outside the zone is likely one reason his OPS against southpaws has plummeted from .903 in 2008 to .765 in 2009 and to .700 in his injury-shortened 2010 campaign.
Victor Martinez hammered lefties last year but he and Pedroia were in the lineup together back-to-back all too rarely to see how the combination played out. Pedroia himself had some physical issues that contributed to a massive slump in May, when both were active. The two weren't on the same page often enough, such as Pedroia and Ortiz were once the smaller of the two settled into the No. 2 spot in 2007.
In Gonzalez, the Red Sox have a guy who has no issues with pitchers coming at you from that side. He might've earlier in his career, but that issue was solved. His OPS vs. lefties was exactly 50 points higher than it was against right-handers in 2010. This form of balance is one of the reasons Gonzalez has been such a coveted piece. He can play all nine innings of 162 games, all while batting third, and suffer no setbacks.
"He's one of the best hitters in the game, a left-handed hitter who can control the zone," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said Monday when introducing Gonzalez at Fenway Park.
San Diego Padres manager Bud Black indicated that Gonzalez is a ferocious studier of tape and spent the majority of his time in the screening room last year pouring over tape of lefties. He learned to take them to the opposite field a bit more, which should yield a few more dents in the Green Monster.
"He stayed on the ball a bit more," Black said of Gonzalez's approach against lefties last year. "I think he did a much better ball of taking the ball off the plate."
With Pedroia's foot expected to be fully healed by the start of the season and Gonzalez not expected to be any worse for wear due to his shoulder issues (that's the hope, at least), the latter could provide the former the best protection he has had since 2007, when Ortiz was firmly planted in the third spot and flirting with an MVP award of his own.