Sure, the choice looks easy:
.180/.306/.230 (.536 OPS)
.406/.441/.813 (1.254 OPS)
Now, let's do some tweaking:
.262/.375/.311 (.686 OPS)
.281/.324/.688 (1.012 OPS)
Well, it's closer, at least. Player A, of course, is Dustin Pedroia, whose struggles have led some to question why he isn't platooned with, or lifted entirely for, Alex Cora, who is Player B.
The first set of numbers is their respective lines entering play today. The second adjusts for their Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP).
BABIP is a tricky beast, Almost all pitchers even out to about .290 averages on the balls hit against them (not including home runs, which are not part of the formula). The idea is that any significant swings from the .290 mean is the result of luck. Hitters are different. A hitter in his career can have season-long BABIPs around .350 or around .250. Even so, a BABIP that deviates from that range is probably because of dumb luck -- for example, of 75 qualified AL players last year, only Derek Jeter had a BABIP higher than .370, and only five players were higher than .350. Conversely, not one of the 75 was lower than .251, and only four hitters were below .270.
With that in mind, Dustin Pedroia's BABIP this season is a
ridculously low .208 (boosted by his 1-for-3 night Thursday). Alex Cora's is on the other end of the pendulum: .423 (sent into the stratosphere by his 3-for-3 night Friday). Hitters' BABIPs can
certainly vary. As has been discussed, Manny Ramirez and Derek Jeter
are consistently above league average. Pedroia is a rookie, of course,
so we don't know where his BABIP ultimately will lie -- but the betting is that it won't be anywhere close to .200. I gave him a
conservative .290 estimate, where Ramon Hernandez, Mike Lowell and
Kenji Johjima resided last season. Cora's career BABIP is .269.
(Projecting Pedroia with a slightly lucky .310 BABIP pushes his line to .279/.389/.328, for what it's worth).
Pedroia benefits greatly from the BABIP adjustment, even if the hits we add are only singles. Cora's
slugging is still impressive, thanks to his two homers and three triples,
but his on-base percentage tumbles precipitously.
Suffice it to say that Alex Cora still looks very good, even were he to be hitting the ball closer to his career norms. He's simply incredibly hot, and no number of statistical adjustments is going to make Dustin Pedroia (or many others) look as good as Alex Cora right now.
But looking at Cora's time in Boston, this is not unheard of. Last year, used judiciously in the early going by Terry
Francona, he went on a month-long tear, from mid-June to mid-July. Those
totals, in 17 games: .419/.519/.465 in 43 at bats. From July 22 to the
end of the season, however, he hit .173/.222/.228 in 127 at
bats. Cora played in his 17th game of the season Friday. He has 32 at bats.
All this to say: Dustin Pedroia has been extremely unlucky. His line drive percentage of 18.9 percent, though down from his September callup, is very healthy (equal to Johnny Damon and Kenji Johjima last season), while his ground-ball/fly-ball ratio is nearly 1:1. He's on pace to walk 81 times and strike out just 51 times. His batting eye is clearly still good.
The numbers make it pretty clear it would be a mistake for the Red Sox to so soon abandon Pedroia in
favor of Cora, as has been intimated in several places. Cora is best
served, and performs best, as a role player getting at bats every few
days. Pedroia's luck is bound to turn -- and the sample sizes are still
small enough where one hit can swing his averages by as much as 15
My advice (because I know the Sox were asking for it): They should be patient with the rookie. We'll be glad they did.