The Podsednik Paradox: Part I: 2005


Of the three years Scott Podsednik played in Chicago, it’s easiest to understand his impact during the Sox’s championship season.
When the Sox burst out of the gate like Secretariat, Podsednik was one big reason.  He didn’t deserve to make the All-Star team, but he did prove to be a more-than-capable leadoff man in the first half of the season, with a .369 on-base percentage and 44 stolen bases in 53 attempts.  The Sox finished the first half with a 57-29 record and a nine-game lead.
Likewise, when Podsednik began to slow down, the Sox did as well.  He missed a chunk of time in August, the Sox’s roughest month of the year, and began to find his stride as the Sox were discovering theirs.  On the surface, Podsednik’s season mirrors the team’s quite well.
Replacements: In short, the Sox didn’t have one for Podsednik.  The play of the Sox’s fourth outfielders — none of whom were good enough to really be called a “fourth outfielder” — were so awful that it inspired the beginning of the trade rumor that wouldn’t soon die: Ken Griffey Jr. to the White Sox.
(It also marked the beginning of the infamous inside joke for White Sox fans on the Web: “Where Would He Play?”)
The Craptacular Cavalcade of Outmakers, composed largely of Carl Everett, Pablo Ozuna and Timo Perez, tried to fill the hole in left field, and each failed to varying degrees.  Here’s the rundown of everybody who took an at-bat for Podsednik in all the games he didn’t start in 2005:

Player
AB
R
H
XBH
RBI
BA
OBP
SLG
Perez
57
6
12
3
5
.211
.258
.263
Everett
43
6
10
2
9
.233
.292
.372
Ozuna
29
7
7
0
0
.241
.333
.241
Anderson
9
0
0
0
0
.000
.000
.000
Gload
3
0
1
0
0
.333
.500
.333
Dye
3
0
0
0
0
.000
.000
.000
Rowand
2
0
0
0
0
.000
.000
.000
Total
146
19
30
5
14
.205
.272
.267

The seven-headed monster of Podsednik replacements posted an OPS of .539.  Treat them as a single entity, and they would have the worst OPS of any player to rack up at least 165 plate appearances in 2005.
(The next-lowest? Tony Womack at .556.  His failures with the Yankees were well-publicized, to put it lightly.)
Pitching, for and against: Of the Sox’s 99 wins, 76 of them came against right-handed pitching; they finished a mere 23-20 against left-handed pitching.  When Pods needed an off day during the times he was healthy, Ozzie Guillen normally gave it to him when the Sox faced a southpaw.
In particular, there was one lefty who the Sox had an enormous amount of trouble with — Johan Santana.  You may have heard of him.  The Sox lost all five games in which they faced Santana, who went 4-0 with a 0.92 ERA and 0.76 WHIP in 39 1/3 innings against the Pale Hose that year.
Do you know who didn’t start when Santana did?  You guessed it — one Scott Podsednik.  There’s five losses of that 19-19 record right there.  The Sox went 9-7 against non-Santana lefties when Podsednik was out, and 10-7 against righties.
Meanwhile, one thought I had before looking at the game logs was that Podsednik missed more time in the second half, when every Sox starter besides Jose Contreras regressed toward the mean.  The difference seems ultra-slim, though:

  • Sox starters, with Pods: 813 1/3 IP, 3.71 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 5.68 K/9
  • Sox starters, w/o Pods: 260 2/3 IP, 3.87 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 6.11 K/9

I didn’t bother crunching numbers for relievers, because I can’t draw meaning from one single inning of work versus another six weeks later.
Streaks? Slumps? Injuries? Podsednik began his only trip to the disabled list during the 2005 season on Aug. 13.  The White Sox lost the next six games.
August happened to be the only month the Sox suffered a losing record, and while they rebounded well enough, such an impressive and well-timed dive is going to make a big impression.

Month
w/ Pods
w/o Pods
April
13-3
4-3
May
16-10
2-0
June
15-5
3-2
July
13-9
2-2
August
6-7
6-9
Sept./Oct.
17-9
2-3

It’s hard to say how much of an impact he would’ve had, though, because even when he was cleared to play, he played a significant role in the team’s worst month of the year.  His August on-base percentage was a pathetic .237 — more than 100 points worse than any of his other monthly OBPs.
His replacements crapped the bed even more — in August, they combined for a .160/.230/.214 line.  And A.J. Pierzynski and Jermaine Dye also suffered down months.  August was Juan Uribe’s worst, too.
We haven’t even mentioned August’s biggest culprit — Joe Crede, who managed a .103/.148/.172 line in 61 plate appearances before a fastball mercifully broke his finger and gave him time off that he desperately needed.  His chief replacement, Geoff Blum, didn’t prove much relief (.540 OPS).
When three of the four guys preceding the heart of the order are wholly ineffective, the offense is going to sputter.  Fortunately for Pods’ reputation, he missed more than half of the month.  And when Crede, Uribe and Dye rebounded to each have a big September, Pods did, too.
He didn’t save his timing for the second half, though. Frank Thomas managed to last 43 games on the 25-man roster, and his presence brought order to the lineup.  Aaron Rowand and Carl Everett didn’t have to try to bat third, and, as a result, they ended up scoring one more run per game.  Podsednik never missed more than one game at a time during this stretch.
So what do we know? You could truly describe Podsednik as “indispensable,” but not because of his own talent as much as the doings of Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen behind him.  Not only did the Sox lack a backup that could be described “at least replacement-level,” but because Guillen has the tendency to bat weak, fast guys first, the horrible backup plan often soaked up the most plate appearances in a game.
Still, though I made it sound like Pods picked his times to duck out, he gave the Sox a boost in an area they have chronically lacked since the Big Hurt became labeled “injury-prone” — on-base percentage.  Even with his lousy August, he finished with a .351 OBP, good for second-best on the team.  With the Sox playing as many one-run games as they did in 2005, every baserunner counted, and Pods did his job in that department.
It’s a lot like the drop-off the Sox suffered in 2006 when A.J. Pierzynski didn’t start (74-52 with, 16-20 without) due to a lack of a replacement, except Pierzynski’s replacements weren’t expected to set the table.
All in all, it’s pretty easy to explain the difference Scott Podsednik made in 2005, at least whatever can’t be chalked up to timing and strategy.  It’s going to be far more difficult to figure out why the Sox similarly struggled without Podsednik in 2006, even though Pods was a shadow of himself compared to the previous year.
I’m beginning to collect data for the second part, so if you have any particular questions or suggestions, please feel free to share.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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