The Dustin Pedroia Hall of Fame Case
Updated: Feb 3, 2021
Dustin Pedroia formally announced his retirement this past week. The three-time World Series champion had his career cut unfortunately short due to injuries, and, as is the case with any career ended prematurely, it gave way to plenty of “what if” scenarios. One that I find particularly interesting is the question of whether or not the man known as Laser Show did enough in his shortened career to make the Baseball Hall of Fame. The vast majority of people seem to agree that he is not a Hall of Famer—I, however, think that there’s an argument to be made in his favor.
The fact of the matter is, Pedey was a Hall of Fame talent. His stats clearly demonstrate someone who was at least on a Hall of Fame trajectory, the question is whether he accomplished enough before getting hurt to get him in. Just going off of rate stats, Pedroia is easily one of the best second basemen of all time. There are currently 21 Hall of Famer second basemen, so there are 22 players in this sample when we add Pedey. Pedroia ranks 7th in this group in hits per 162 games, with 193. The only players ahead of him in this category are Rogers Hornsby, Nap Lajoie, Charlie Gehringer, Rod Carew, Frankie Frisch, and Billy Herman. Of this group, only Carew played after 1947. Out of the group of Hall of Fame second basemen plus Pedroia, Pedey ranks 9th in home runs per 162, with 15. He ranks 10th in this group in batting average, 13th in OBP, 10th in slugging, and 12th in OPS. Pedroia’s 3 World Series titles are tied for 6th in this group, and he’s 13th in WAR7 (WAR7 aims to measure a players peak by adding up their best 7 seasons of WAR). Based on all of this, if Pedey were to make the Hall, He would pretty clearly be at least a top 15 HOF second basemen ever, and would most likely be considered top 10. Unsurprisingly, however, Pedroia’s counting stats don’t measure up.
Of the group of HOF second basemen plus Pedroia, he’s 18th in career hits and 10th in home runs. Not horrible, especially the homers. Unfortunately, his 51.6 career WAR just doesn’t measure up very well to Hall of Famers. Among the group of 22 outlined above, Pedroia played in the second fewest games. He had the fourth fewest at bats, and the third fewest plate appearances. That is what really hurts him—he simply didn’t play long enough to build a strong Hall of Fame resume. Had he gotten the opportunity to go out like most players, with a whimper rather than a bang, however, it’s easy to see how he could have.
With regards to Pedroia, there really isn’t a lot of guesswork needed to estimate where his counting stats would have been had he not gotten hurt. We’re not talking about a great player cut down in his prime—we’re talking about a great player who missed out on his declining seasons. Maybe missing seasons where his performance was likely to falter helps Pedroia with regards to his rate stats (his batting average, for example, would likely have fallen below the .299 mark he ended his career with), but it kills him in terms of overall hits, doubles, homers, WAR, etc. The Hall of Fame is riddled with players who used their declining seasons to rack up hits and pad counting stats. The average HOF second baseman accrued 280 hits after turning 35. Pedroia had 3 hits in his age 34 and 35 seasons combined, and didn’t play another game. The average HOF second baseman accumulated 5.4 WAR after turning 35. Pedroia lost 0.7 WAR over 9 games over his age 34 and 35 seasons after getting injured.
Let’s say Pedroia didn’t get hurt, and had ended up playing out his contract before retiring (the upcoming 2021 season would have been his last). Furthermore, let’s say he played 150 games per year in 2017, ’18, and ’19, and put up the same stats he was on pace for in 2017 before his injury. This doesn’t seem unreasonable—these were his age 33-35 seasons, so he wasn't likely to have a precipitous decline quite yet. Let's also say he would have played 130 games per year in 2020 and ’21, and would have had slightly worse stats due to regular age-related decline. Pedroia had 119 hits in 105 games before getting hurt in 2017, good for 170 in 150 games. So, we can estimate he would have had 51 additional hits in 2017, and 340 over the next two seasons. If we assume 130 games in 2020 and ’21, with slightly worse stats, we can estimate about 140 more hits per season, for a total of 280. That gets us to 671 additional hits that Pedroia was robbed of.
Pedroia was worth 2.5 WAR in 105 games in 2017 before the injury. If we use the same method of estimation, that comes out to 3.6 WAR over 150 games. That’s an additional 1.1 in 2017, and 7.2 in ’18 and ’19. Again, assuming a decline in 2020 and ’21, we can estimate an additional 6 WAR over the final two seasons of his contract. Let’s, however, be conservative and say he only accumulated 3 WAR total over his final two seasons. That’s still 11.3 additional WAR that he missed out on, and that’s using a pretty conservative estimate. Add these stats to his career totals entering 2017, and Pedroia would have ended his career with 2,473 hits and 63.5 WAR. The 2,473 hits would have ranked 11th among Hall of Fame second basemen, and 13th among all second basemen. The 63.5 WAR also would have ranked 11th among HOF second basemen, and would have ranked 16th among all second basemen. A Rookie of the Year, MVP, 3 time World Champion, 4 time Gold Glove Winner, and 4 time All Star with nearly 2,500 hits and over 60 WAR is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. And that’s assuming Pedroia would have retired at the age of 37, without signing another contract.
Of course, one cannot say “look at what he would have done!” to argue that a player is a Hall of Famer. Looking at what Pedey’s career numbers may have been is fun (and sad), but does nothing to help his Hall of Fame case. As shown above, Pedroia was already arguably a Hall of Famer prior to the injury—probably not, his counting stats just aren’t good enough, but a non-ridiculous argument can at least be made. He's a Red Sox Hall of Famer, there's no doubt about that, but I don’t personally believe he did enough to make it into Cooperstown. I do believe, however, that he would have had he gotten to play out his final years. He was robbed of the twilight of his career, and potentially robbed of a spot in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. The moral of this story—f*ck Manny Machado.