Oakland Athletics v Boston Red Sox

Dustin Pedroia has been one of the better players in baseball over the last five seasons. Since the start of the 2008 season, Dustin Pedroia is in the top ten for position player fWAR, posting a .304/.373/.467 line with 80 home runs over that time. His .366 wOBA trails just Robinson Cano and Chase Utley among qualified second baseman.

I don’t know if the word “pure hitter” applies to Pedroia but it seems apt to me: he doesn’t strike out very much and he makes excellent use of his home ballpark, crashing doubles into the Green Monster like few Red Sox before him.

Dustin Pedroia is the subject of the latest edition of My Approach, discussing his “make something from nothing” two strike approach, using a high tee and making the most of his less-than-strapping frame.

Getting Blanked – How much do you make use of video when you’re preparing for games?

Dustin Pedroia – A lot. That’s a huge tool in our game. You try to get tendencies – what pitches a guy likes throwing. I just try to make the most adjustments as possible, try to put myself in the best position to succeed. Hopefully you get the pitch you want and put a good swing on it.

GB – Is it something you use to study what you’re doing or more for scouting your opposition?

DP – I use it for me. I’m not as talented as these other guys or as strong so I try to just watch and figure what makes me tick so if I’m doing wrong I can hopefully catch and try to fix it.

GB – Is there such a thing as too much information?

It’s funny, when you’re going good you don’t watch video as much, it’s mostly for when I’m going bad when I use it more. I try to simplify the game and just take it like I’m playing little league. Play the game, have fun, and try to do the best I can. Some days you’ll have a day when you’re 0-5 but it’s just because the pitcher was that good that day. Or there are days when you’re good that day, that’s the way I try to approach baseball.

GB – What role does the batting cage play in your preparation?

DP – My cage work, I try to train my swing so it’s ready for the game. For me, I want to make my swing as short and compact as possible. That’s my strength. Somebody like Jose (Bautista), his strength, he has so much leverage that when he gets extended he’s hitting literally balls to the moon.

I’m stronger when the ball is closer to me because I only weigh 165 pounds. I need to put every pound I have into the ball to hit a home run or to drive it. Guys are different in that aspect but knowing what makes you good is a huge part of being a big leaguer. A lot of the good players try to stick to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses as much as possible.

Pedroia handles the inside pitches about as well as any right-handed hitter in the league. Since the start of the 2010 season, Pedroia hits inside pitches to the tune of a .378 wOBA, compared to a league average of .347. If we look only at fastballs, Pedroia clouts at an even higher rate, posting a .422 wOBA on inside heat. 25 of Pedroia’s 48 homers over that time came on the inside part of the plate, compared to 19 on pitches thrown over the middle.

pedroia home run inside

Anyone who watches Pedroia hit, especially when he’s going well, knows how well he handles the pitch up and in. It is here Pedroia really distinguishes himself. He has eleven home runs on fastballs thrown up and in over the last 3+ seasons, trailing only current Red Sox teammate Mike Napoli who has 13.

GB – Do you have a baseline you work to when things aren’t going well?

DP – I do a lot of high tee stuff because when I’m going bad I’m underneath the ball trying to generate power. It causes my swing to get long. [The high tee] forces me to be on top of the ball, be shorter and it gets me to backspin the ball. Even sometimes in the game, just taking a pitch. Seeing the ball, letting it travel instead of jumping out to it can help me.

Pedroia hasn’t hit for as much power as expected thus far in 2013, with only four extra base hits on the season. Pedroia keeps contributing through this power outage, chasing fewer pitches out of the strike zone. The result? He’s walking more than ever in his big league career. He’s letting the ball travel to the tune of 19 walks in just 122 plate appearances, a big spike over his career rate.

GB – To you like to formulate a plan or attack at that plate?

DP – I think about what I’m trying to do. If I’m facing a sinkerball pitcher like Justin Masterson I’ll never try to pull it – that’s playing right into his hand. I’ll hit four ground balls to third and we’ll out of there in a hour and half and he’ll throw a shutout. Those are the guys you have to try to stay inside the ball, hit it the other way and be disciplined. I’m trying to get the pitch to do that with, which isn’t easy. There are going to be times where I’ll still hit four ground balls to third base but if you’re approach is right, more times than not you put yourself in the best position to succeed.

GB – Do you ever guess?

DP - I never do. I always hit off the fastball because the only way I’m going to hit an off-speed pitch out for a home run is if the body reacts naturally. If I sit on an off-speed pitch, I mean, I could crush it and it still might not go out because I’m just not as strong. If you flip an off-speed pitch up to (Blue Jays Bautista & Encarnacion) Jose or Edwin they’re going to just waffle it. Everybody’s different but I just try to hit off the fastball and just react & let my hands work.

GB – How does your approach change with two strikes?

DP – Just try to see the ball and still know the strike zone. Protect the plate a little bit, know that you might have expand a little bit. I view two strikes as though you’re playing with the house’s money. They’ve already got you in a hole, if you see some more pitches or grind out an at bat or walk or get a hit: that’s a bonus. It’s hard to do but I try to put the pressure on the pitcher because he’s the one who’s supposed to strike you out when you get to 0-2 or two strikes.

Pedroia’s two strike approach treats him well, as his .248/.315/.350 slash line in those situations attests (league average with two strikes since 2010 is a mere .191/.261/.295). Below is an example of Pedroia expanding his zone with two strikes but making something positive happen, driving a ball off the Green Monster to cash a base runner.

GB – Who, in your opinion, has the best approach in the big leagues? Who do you like?

DP – I try to pick a guy or two from each team and try to watch how they work during BP or what they do defensively. I watch Jose a lot, Miguel Cabrera I’ll watch him take BP. Cano, Joe Mauer, all those guys I just watch and try to get better. I’ll pick a little part from their game and try to get better.

They all say Cabrera. Every single one.

Stats assist to ESPN Stats & Info and Fangraphs.