While there’s no question he’s a fan favorite, does the Red Sox veteran possess a resume worthy of Cooperstown?
Dustin Pedroia’s career might be over, and while it’s hard to realize, the play of Michael Chavis and Brock Holt have helped ease the sting. All of Red Sox Nation held their breath as Pedroia had to be removed from a rehab game in May, and our worry turned to sorrow as the former “heart and soul” of the Sox told reporters he wasn’t sure if he could play again, and that he wouldn’t undergo another surgery. It’s painful to see a legendary player leave, especially seeing their respective career ended prematurely by injuries. Pedroia has cemented his legacy in New England as a model of ultimate devotion to the game, a player whose jersey is ubiquitous throughout New England, and whose pre-at bat routine was mimicked by Little Leaguers across the country. If this really is the end for the former captain, has he done enough to get a plaque in Cooperstown?
The Red Sox veteran hit .299/.365/.439, with a 113 OPS+ over the course of his career. Dustin won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2007, helping lead the Sox to their second World Series of the 21st century. While many great players fall victim to a sophomore slump, Pedroia made his second year his strongest, winning the AL MVP and leading the league in runs, hits, and doubles. He was top 10 in MVP voting in 2011 and 2013 as well, leading the Red Sox to their first World Series win at Fenway for 95 years. He continued to contribute at the top of the Boston order through 2017. After playing through an injury, Pedroia decided to have surgery after the Red Sox got eliminated by the Astros. He had to miss almost all of the 2018 season, and is very unlikely to return this season.
In terms of tangible measurements, Pedroia is on the border. He has a 51.7 career WAR (Baseball Reference), which is ahead of Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, and ranks 282nd all time (269th if the 13 active players ahead of him are not counted). As of 2019, there are 230 MLB players in the Hall of Fame. Around four players get inducted each year, meaning that when Pedroia is eligible in 2025, there will be around 250 players that have already been inducted.
The Hall of Fame provides all-time great players with immortality. Pedroia’s case was his ability to succeed in every part of the game. He was one of the best defensive players of his era, earning four Gold Gloves. He was fantastic at the plate as well, posting a career .299 batting average, and a .365 on-base percentage. That meant that if he played ten games, and had five plate appearances in all of them, he could be expected to get on base in all of the games except for one. He provided decent power for a second baseman, earning the nickname “Laser Show” for his bullet-like line drives. Though his knee has slowed him down recently, Pedroia was a threat on the basepaths for most of his career, stealing at least 20 bases in four seasons.
Perhaps Pedroia’s most important contribution to the Red Sox was his presence in the clubhouse. These intangible impacts are highly regarded in the eyes of the BBWAA, as seen in the case of Jason Varitek. he received MVP votes in three separate seasons, none of which he posted a WAR above 4.0 in. Furthermore, his career WAR is less than half of Pedroia’s, had a career OPS+ of 99 (100 is league average) and won only one Gold Glove. Regardless, he received a Hall of Fame vote from Jay Dunn. Pedroia’s 2013 campaign told a similar story, in which his OPS did not even reach .800, but he was 7th place in the AL MVP voting. Knowing that the BBWAA votes on MVP winners and Hall of Fame inductees, we can hope that they won’t just see his value in his contributions on the field.
Where Pedroia distinguishes himself from the former Sox catcher on the back of the baseball card, he mirrors him in his role as the captain. He had an ability to make all of the players around him better — even pitchers like Rodriguez and Price — and set an example with his toughness and willingness to play through almost any injury. Without Pedroia, the road to the 2007 and 2013 championships would have much rockier. If Pedroia hangs up the cleats at the end of this season, it seems he was just as good of a leader as Varitek, or maybe even better.
On the other hand, Pedroia only has 1805 hits, 140 home runs, and an .805 OPS. He has only played over 100 games in 9 seasons. Furthermore, a Hall of Fame inductee is often a player who was the best of his position. However, Pedroia has often played second fiddle to Robinson Cano, and was in the league along with many comparable second basemen such as Chase Utley, Ian Kinsler, and Brandon Phillips. Without the career longevity or the dominance a conventional Hall of Famer has, Pedroia is still a long shot.
While Pedroia’s stat line and awards have him just below the border for Hall of Fame recognition, we can hope that his leadership and clubhouse presence is what gives him the final push, and earns him a spot among the best baseball players ever. He may not earn a spot in Cooperstown, but it would not be surprising to see him immortalized as one of the greatest to wear a Red Sox uniform.