Dustin Pedroia might be the greatest second baseman in Red Sox history. He should be celebrated for all he accomplished during his time in Boston.
Still, it’s hard not to wonder what could have been for Pedroia, had injuries not derailed his stellar career.
Pedroia, who announced his retirement Monday morning, enjoyed one of the most decorated decades of any second baseman ever to play in Major League Baseball. From 2007 to 2016, the diminutive infielder won an MVP Award, a Rookie of the Year Award, a Silver Slugger Award, four Gold Glove Awards and was named to four All-Star teams. He also was a key contributor on the Red Sox’s 2007 and 2013 World Series championship teams.
It’s not a stretch to say Pedroia was well on his way to building a Hall of Fame-caliber résumé — and that he still might garner some Cooperstown consideration.
But nagging knee injuries limited Pedroia to just nine games over the last three years (including none in 2020) and ultimately led to Monday’s emotional goodbye. Consequently, it now is difficult to imagine Pedroia joining the game’s greats in Cooperstown despite his accolades.
All told, Pedroia’s impact in Boston goes beyond the Hall of Fame. Plaque or no plaque, he’s a Red Sox legend and an MLB legend.
Nevertheless, Pedroia’s candidacy will be subject for debate in five years. So, why wait that long?
THE CASE FOR
It’s easy to forget now, but Pedroia truly was one of the best second basemen of his era. He might not have had the power of Ian Kinsler or raw (and juiced) hitting talent of Robinson Cano, but he was a better all-around player, and certainly respected the game more than Cano.
Pedroia probably was most similar to Chase Utley, who also possessed a five-tool game during his prime. Still, Pedroia was the better player. For some, using the eye test and placing a player within the context of his peers plays a huge role in determining Hall of Fame candidacy, and such a method should be favorable to Pedroia — to a point.
In terms of traditional statistics, Pedroia’s numbers compare favorably to some second basemen in the Hall of Fame. For example, Pedroia has a better career batting average (.299) and on-base percentage (.365), plus more stolen bases (138), than Red Sox legend Bobby Doerr, who hit .288 with a .362 OBP to go along with 54 stolen bases. Doerr, who like Pedroia played 14 seasons, finished with more homers and a higher OPS than Pedroia, but he also hit behind Jimmie Foxx and some guy named Ted Williams. Sure, Doerr made five more All-Star teams than Pedroia, but he won no major awards and ended his career with three fewer World Series rings.
Like it or not, many of the qualifiers we just mentioned no longer matter to Hall of Fame voters. Instead, analytics and advanced statistics rule the debate, and that could be good for Pedroia. His 15.3 defensive WAR currently ranks 112th among all players on Baseball-Reference, and his 46.3 JAWS score (perhaps the nerdiest of all baseball stats) is 20th among all second basemen and ahead of Hall of Famers Doerr, Bill Mazeroski and Nellie Fox. However, his 51.6 career WAR ranks behind Utley, Kinsler and Cano, among others.
THE CASE AGAINST
If you’re a “small Hall” person, it might be hard to argue Pedroia belongs alongside second basemen such as Joe Morgan, Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg or Roger Hornsby, players whose numbers dwarf Pedroia’s. Similarly, Pedroia’s stats don’t compare favorably to those posted by Jeff Kent, who somehow remains on the outside looking in.
Cooperstown is notoriously tough on second basemen. And while you could argue Pedroia is the best of his era, that alone doesn’t mean he’s a shoo-in alongside the best of all eras. If voters are going to be strict with second basemen, it’s hard to imagine them breaking convention to elect a player with 1,805 hits, 140 homers and 725 RBIs, even if those numbers don’t exactly tell the whole story.
Furthermore, if Kinsler, Utley and Cano are going to have tough times getting in (and they will), Pedroia probably will, as well, with a 113 career OPS+ tied with Derek Dietrich.
As for the, “Well, he would’ve been a Hall of Famer without the injuries” argument, it’s tough to lean on hypotheticals. If everyone can agree that an injury-shortened career is going to keep a player like Nomar Garciaparra out, then the same likely applies to Pedroia. (Garciappara played in fewer games over 14 seasons than Pedroia but still posted better numbers across the board.)
No matter which way you slice it, Pedroia will have a hard time gaining enshrinement into the Hall of Fame.
Had he been able to play a mostly healthy 17 or 18 seasons in the big leagues, he probably would have a very compelling case. But the reality — and it should not be labeled an “unfortunate” one for someone who enjoyed as decorated a career as he did — is that Pedroia long will be remembered for how he played a game, rather than the numbers he posted.
Whether Pedroia is a Hall of Famer should not distract from what he did in a Red Sox uniform. His on-field contributions to two championship teams were immense, and his role in the most successful period in franchise history was both significant and memorable.