When you think long and hard about Dustin Pedroia’s career, one certainly cannot forget the run of dominance in which it began: 2007 Rookie of the Year, 2007 World Series, 2008 American League Most Valuable Player.
But the latter of the three is one that, in reflection, should become a topic of debate. Was Pedroia truly deserving of MVP in 2008?
I know, I know: “let people enjoy things!”
You have every right to ridicule me for even revisiting this award roughly 11-and-a-half years later. However, it’s an interesting debate to have.
In 2008, the then 24-year-old second baseman out of Arizona State played 157 games. Across those games, he accumulated a .326/.376/.493 slash line with a wOBA and wRC+ of .377 and 127 respectively. He also posted 13 defensive runs saved, had an ultimate zone rating of 9.7, and posted 6.4 wins above replacement on the FanGraphs scale (second in the American League).
From a counting stats perspective, Pedroia finished with 17 home runs, 83 runs batted in, and led the league in hits (213), runs scored (118), and doubles (54).
On paper, that stat line screams MVP candidate. But should it have won the whole thing?
Was he even the best player on his team?
Not necessarily, and here’s why:
As the Boston Red Sox were on a run at a World Series title defense, they were without David Ortiz for a good portion of the season. Ortiz played just 109 games in 2008, missing 46 from June into late-July. Over that time, guys like J.D. Drew (made only All-Star Game), Jacoby Ellsbury, and the production out of left field from Manny Ramirez and Jason Bay kept the Red Sox afloat –– as well as Pedroia.
However, there is one guy who was dominant through and through: Kevin Youkilis.
The man they call “Youk” was a one-man wrecking crew all season, finishing with a slash line of .312/.390/.569 with a .406 wOBA and a wRC+ of 146. On top of those appealing rate stats, Youkilis had 29 home runs, 115 runs batted in, 43 doubles, and 6.2 wins above replacement in 145 games.
He was a force from Opening Day onward.
“But the fWAR favors Pedroia, so shouldn’t that automatically negate the whole argument?”
While certainly part of it, it’s worth noting that Pedroia had the benefit of playing 12 more games than his teammate that year. If you were to rate them both at a 150-game sample size, Youkilis would have an fWAR of 6.4 while Pedroia’s would be 6.1.
“But that’s not fair to Pedroia. Playing in that many games is important.”
Again, while true, it doesn’t tell the whole story about true talent.
Yes, Pedroia bested Youkilis in average, hits, runs scored, and doubles, Youkilis held the advantage in countless other numbers. Let’s see how they matched up against each other in 2008.
While Pedroia bested Youkilis in defensive runs saved (13-11), it’s hard to imagine defense played much of a role in deciding who was the Most Valuable Player in the American League. Even if it did, the difference defensively does nothing to outweigh the overwhelming advantage Youkilis had offensively in 2008.
So Dustin Pedroia won AL MVP in 2008 and will go down as one of the most controversial decisions in recent memory. Especially considering he had a teammate that was arguably more deserving, especially considering offensive output.
At the end of the day, Youkilis can at least be thankful he wasn’t snubbed quite like Grady Sizemore that same season. The Indians outfielder had a 30-homer, 30-stolen base season while boasting an AL-leading 7.4 fWAR, rates that compared heavily to Pedroia, but he finished 10th in voting.
However, that being said, it’s interesting to look back on previous awards and truly determine worthiness. Because, in this situation, there’s a strong case that Pedroia wasn’t even the best player on his team, let alone the best player in the American League.
It’s not even an indictment to Pedroia, because he was phenomenal in 2008. It’s more so a testament to the dominance of Kevin Youkilis.