How high does AL MVP Pedroia go in '09?
Our own Player Rater says the voters got this one just right; Pedroia finished the season highest-ranked American League hitter, and the third-best AL player behind Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee if you count pitchers. (Manny Ramirez, obviously, finished the year in the National League.)
For a good reference point, check out Derek Jeter's 2006: He had fewer home runs (14), sure, and matched Pedroia in runs scored (118), but hit for a higher batting average (.343), had more RBIs (97) and stole more bases (34). Jeter lost to Justin Morneau, who finished second to Pedroia this time, albeit in a weaker season for Morneau than his 2006.
So that might be your reference point for Pedroia: At his best, offensively speaking, he's the Derek Jeter of the 21st century, and that's a pretty good statistical ceiling to have. Since 2000, Jeter has averaged .315-18-83 numbers with 24 steals and 123 runs scored. If Pedroia's owners could trust in him doing that each of the next 10 years, you wouldn't hear a single one of them complaining, that's for sure.
Here's the problem: That's what I'd term Pedroia's ceiling, and for the past few years, I've argued as much as anyone that Jeter is a pretty overrated fantasy player. For a time, Jeter would routinely be picked among the top 25 players on draft day, sometimes as high as the early-to-mid second round. Rarely would he quite justify the price tag.
Pedroia, fortunately, might never generate quite the fantasy appeal Jeter did in his prime. Scouts weren't nearly as high on him as the Yankee shortstop, and he has earned his way to this by making the most of his skills and situation. Pedroia, now 25, might never have another season quite this productive, but then it can be just as easily argued that he won't fall off substantially from his 2008 stat line. Consistency counts; and the one thing these guys might have most in common is that.
One thing very much in Pedroia's favor looking ahead to 2009: He plays a terribly weak fantasy position, perhaps the weakest after catcher. Among players who will qualify at second base for next season, only four ranked among the top 90 overall on the 2008 Player Rater, although each placed in the top 30 (Pedroia at 12, Chase Utley at 19, Ian Kinsler at 21 and Brian Roberts at 30). Brandon Phillips and Dan Uggla also make strong cases for top-five consideration at the position before there's a noticeable dropoff.
Does Pedroia warrant No. 1 consideration at second base? Probably not, not with Utley, who struggled down the stretch due to minor aches and pains, finishing only seven spots behind him overall for the season. A second baseman with Utley's power and double-digit speed, especially one who calls a bandbox his home, is a far safer selection.
That leaves Pedroia in that second tier, a group that includes Kinsler, Roberts, Phillips and Uggla. They'll probably be regarded somewhat interchangeably, though the one thing fantasy owners likely will agree on is that you'd be wise to grab one of the top six, lest you be left scrounging for the scraps that populate the bottom rungs at the position.
I'd take Kinsler over Pedroia; had he not been hurt and missed the final 37 games of the season, he'd have projected at 24 home runs, 95 RBIs, 35 stolen bases and 137 runs scored to go along with his .319 batting average. Even with the missed time, Kinsler's numbers were somewhat comparable to Pedroia's, and he's the one in the more hitter-friendly home environment, with stronger power and baserunning skills.
Roberts is right there with Pedroia, as it's hard to argue with a .290 batting average, 10 home runs and 100 runs scored to go along with 40-plus stolen bases. I'd likely slot Pedroia in at No. 3 barely ahead of Roberts, accounting both for the slim chance the Orioles trade Roberts to a less fantasy-friendly situation and that I'd prefer to pick the player with the better pure hitting skills. That's a pure matter of opinion, though.
I'm sure a good number of owners would also prefer Phillips, a bona fide 30/30 candidate at second base, or Uggla, with his 30-homer power. I don't, but Phillips should give Pedroia a run for the higher ranking on the 2009 Player Rater. Uggla, cold as he finished 2008, presents a far riskier selection than the consistent Pedroia.
All of that places Pedroia no higher than third at his position, and therefore clearly out of the top 25 overall. Where might he go in 2009 drafts? Most likely he'll be a fourth- or fifth-round selection, though at any higher price he wouldn't land on any of my teams.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.