Terry Francona jumped into a recent interview the Providence Journal's Joe McDonald was conducting with Dustin Pedroia in the Red Sox dugout at Fenway Park, taking advantage of the chance to mock his second baseman.
"I used to be a good player," Francona said. "Now I'm horrible."
Pedroia won't win his second straight American League MVP award this year. He's not the MVP of his own team. He might not even be one of the top five candidates for MVP of his own team. He led the league in runs scored for a second straight year, but many of his other statistics are down: Batting avearge (from .326 to .296), doubles (54 to 48), home runs (17 to 15), RBI (83 to 72).
But it's been far from a down year -- particularly given the turmoil at the top of the Red Sox lineup throughout the first half of the season. When Jacoby Ellsbury was bumped from the top of the order to the bottom until his ability to get on base improved, it was Pedroia who moved to the top of the order in his place. Pedroia spent almost the entire month of June hitting leadoff for the Red Sox before Francona got him out of that spot.
Check out these splits:
Batting 1st: .219 batting, .287 on-base, .333 slugging
Batting 2nd: .311 batting, .388 on-base, .470 slugging
(That .388 on-base percentage, spread out across an entire season, would have ranked him 13th in the American League -- ahead of Jason Bay, Mark Teixeira and Victor Martinez -- rather than 22nd.)
Compare that to last season:
Batting 1st: .208 batting/.256 on-base/.264 slugging
Batting 2nd: .331 batting/.382 on-base/.502 slugging
The downturn in his numbers might or might not have coincided with a slump he would have gone through anyway. You can't automatically assume the move to the top of the order caused his lousy numbers.
It certainly didn't help, though.
"It did take a little of my aggressiveness away," Pedroia said immediately after Terry Francona dropped him back to his customary spot and installed J.D. Drew at the top of the lineup. "When you hit leadoff, you want to get on base so bad. They're throwing pitches on the corner and stuff like that, and, usually, I'm kind of a hacker a little bit, and that took it away from me a little bit. He just said, 'We'll move you down, flip-flop you and J.D., and just go do your thing.'"
But Pedroia's peripherals even improved from last season:
* His strikeout rate decreased (from 7.2 percent to 6.3).
* His walk rate increased (from 6.9 percent to 10.4).
* His pitches per plate appearance increased (from 3.70 to 3.95).
Defense, too, was a factor a year ago: Pedroia's plus-15 on The Fielding Bible's scale ranked him fifth in the major leagues. This year? You guessed it: Pedroia's plus-12 ranked him fifth in the major leagues.
You can say Pedroia had a down year if you want.
But it seems pretty obvious where he's more comfortable hitting in the batting order -- and had his manager left him there, it's likely he'd have put up MVP-caliber numbers once again.