Scott Podsednik's Surprising Effectiveness

I've never been much of a fan of Scott Podsednik. I completely understood the need to trim the large salary of Carlos Lee, and that the savings were essentially turned into Tadahito Iguchi, AJ Pierzynski, and Orlando Hernandez. But I could never get over the fact that the same could have been accomplished by trading for a higher-upside unestablished player or prospect.

Back in '05, I told myself I could live with a light-hitting left fielder if he was able to do three things 

  1. get on-base, a .350 OBP was my somewhat arbitrary line of acceptability
  2. be a plus defender in LF
  3. be efficient with his legs on the basepaths

Podsednik was able to meet and exceed all three of those conditions... for a half-season. Since that first groin injury, however, Pods has seen his bat decline and been unable to make up for it with plus secondary skills. He hasn't been a useful player, which is why the Podsednik Paradox exists. 

Interestingly, the White Sox record when Pods starts is 2 games below .500 this season, exactly the same as when he sits.

Getting back to the point, when my dad excitedly emailed me that the White Sox had re-signed Pods (to a minor league deal) this year, I simply replied "So?" I couldn't foresee any situation in which he was a contributing member to a contending team, let alone a starting and leading off. 

Yet here we are. The Sox may not be a good team, but it's hard not to describe them as contenders in the Mediocre-Plays-In-October Central. And Podsednik finds himself right in the middle of things with a resurgent 40 game stretch, batting .311/.360/.391. He needs to stay put more often on the basepaths (Bill James has him listed at only +1 bases this season), but overall he's been effective; the Sox second-best outfielder in the absence of Carlos Quentin, which probably says as much about the Sox as it does Podsednik.

How's he doing it?

This became a point of discussion between my dad and myself yesterday afternoon as Pods drove in Gordon Beckham to put the Sox up 4-2. My own theory was that Pods was hitting more line drives thanks to his occasional stutter-step approach at the plate. So I decided to take a look at the numbers this afternoon to confirm my theory. 

Podsednik's Batted Ball Stats

2002 Mariners 1.8 6.7 % 60.0 % 33.3 % 0.0 % 20.0 % 11.1 % 0.0 %
2003 Brewers 1.42 23.6 % 44.8 % 31.5 % 9.3 % 6.4 % 9.5 % 33.3 %
2004 Brewers 1.35 17.7 % 47.3 % 35.0 % 12.9 % 6.7 % 8.3 % 30.3 %
2005 White Sox 2.36 21.2 % 55.3 % 23.5 % 12.6 % 0.0 % 10.7 % 44.7 %
2006 White Sox 1.74 22.8 % 49.0 % 28.2 % 9.5 % 2.6 % 5.0 % 17.9 %
2007 White Sox 1.92 18.8 % 53.4 % 27.8 % 2.0 % 4.1 % 8.5 % 20.0 %
2008 Rockies 2.09 24.4 % 51.1 % 24.4 % 3.0 % 3.0 % 4.3 % 100.0 %
2009 White Sox 1.64 14.5 % 53.1 % 32.4 % 23.4 % 2.1 % 11.7 % 50.0%

Wrong. Pods' line drive rate is at its lowest point since he established himself as a major leaguer in '03. With the caveat that line drive rate isn't the most reliable measurement as it's a human judgement-based measure, I think we can safely say that Pods isn't hitting nearly as many line drives as when he had previous stretches of effectiveness.

The second part of my theory was that his new stutter-stepping style had changed his overall approach at the plate, turning him into a hitter instead of a spectator hoping to get on base. This part appears to be true.

Podsednik's Rate Stats

2002 Mariners 16.7 % 30.0 % 0.67 .200 .320 .350 .670 .231
2003 Brewers 9.1 % 16.3 % 0.62 .314 .379 .443 .822 .362
2004 Brewers 8.3 % 16.4 % 0.55 .244 .313 .364 .677 .275
2005 White Sox 8.5 % 14.8 % 0.63 .299 .351 .349 .700 .340
2006 White Sox 9.3 % 18.3 % 0.56 .261 .330 .353 .684 .315
2007 White Sox 5.7 % 16.8 % 0.36 .243 .299 .369 .668 .284
2008 Rockies 9.0 % 17.3 % 0.57 .253 .322 .333 .656 .301
2009 White Sox 6.9 % 8.7 % 0.86 .311 .360 .391 .751 .336

Podsednik has halved his average K-rate, and seen a subsequent dip in his BB-rate. But his K/BB ratio is approaching 1:1, a lofty effective territory Podsednik has never been able to reach.

Clearly, Pods has become a more aggressive hitter. According to Baseball-Reference, only 29% of his strikeouts this season have been looking, compared to a frustratingly high 46% for his career. You'd think that that increased aggressiveness would mean that he's seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance, but it appears not to be the case as Pods 4.11 P/PA this season is actually higher than his career mark of 4.06. He's making contact more often.

This is confirmed by the FanGraphs data which shows his contact rate at 94.1% this year vs. 88.4% for his career. More striking is the difference in contact rate on balls out of the strike zone (O-Contact%) which shows 87.9% compared to 71.5% for his career.

I can't say whether these changes are sustainable for the rest of the season, but it does seem to indicate that Podsednik's surprising effectiveness isn't entirely a fluke.

Table data culled from FanGraphs.

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