The Podsednik Paradox: Part II: 2006


On the surface, there’s an incredibly easy explanation as to why the Sox struggled so much with Scott Podsednik out of the lineup during the 2006 season: left-handed pitchers.
Of the 41 games Scott Podsednik didn’t start, 39 of them were against southpaw starters, including the first 37.  Pods didn’t miss a game with a righty on the mound until Seattle’s Felix Hernandez started against the Sox September 23.  Pods also missed the last game of the season against Minnesota’s Carlos Silva.
The White Sox finished the year 59-38 against righties, and 31-34 against lefties.  That alone creates a gigantic gap.
However, this answer raises an even tougher question — how on Earth do you explain this difference in records:

  • Sox against lefties w/o Pods: 14-25
  • Sox against lefties w/ Pods: 17-9

The answer isn’t in the first place we looked last time:
Replacements: In 2005, no matter who Ozzie Guillen replaced Pods with, he couldn’t get even a replacement-level performance in his place.  That’s not the case in 2006, due in large part to Pablo Ozuna’s first half.  Here’s the breakdown, and their total is stacked against Pods’ stats in the 26 games he started against lefties:

Player
AB
R
H
XBH
RBI
BA
OBP
SLG
Ozuna
138
15
58
14
13
.340
.381
.464
Mackowiak
20
1
8
0
0
.400
.429
.400
Gload
8
1
1
0
0
.125
.125
.125
Sweeney
4
0
2
0
0
.500
.500
.500
Total
170
17
58
15
13
.341
.377
.441
Podsednik
107
19
25
5
14
.234
.300
.308

In place of Podsednik, Ozuna, Rob Mackowiak, Ross Gload and Ryan Sweeney combined to put up what basically equates to Ichiro Suzuki’s career line (.333/.379/.437).
Yet, despite reaching base nearly half as much (36 times, to 68 for the above foursome) and collecting less than half the hits, Pods beats them in both runs and RBI.  I may have an answer for this, if you read on.
Pitching, for and against: Unlike 2005, when the pitching lines were roughly the same whether or not Podsednik started, there is a sizable difference in the 2006 numbers:

  • Sox starters, with Pods: 779 IP, 4.47 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 5.18 K/9
  • Sox starters, w/o Pods: 263 IP, 5.16 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 6.02 K/9

The numbers aren’t easy to reconcile, aside from the strikeout rates.  Javier Vazquez started four games that Pods didn’t in September, over which he struck out 45 over 29 1/3 innings.  Otherwise, while Mark Buehrle was the worst pitcher in the second half and Jose Contreras wasn’t great, either, Sox starters actually performed far worse in the first half during the games Podsednik didn’t start:

  • First half: 97 IP, 6.22 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 4.82 K/9
  • Second half: 166 IP, 4.55 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 6.72 K/9

However, the Sox went 6-9 without Pods in the first half, and 9-17 in the second.  That said, I think we’re getting closer to the most significant reason.
Johan Santana, once again, is part of the equation, too, except he has company this time.  The Twins ace was one of three AL Central lefties who absolutely tormented the Sox in 2006 — Cleveland’s C.C. Sabathia and Detroit’s Kenny Rogers were the others.
The Sox went 4-12 in games started by that trio — 3-1 in games Pods started, and 1-11 in the others.
What’s especially funny is that in those four games, Pods was 1-for-15 with two walks.
Streaks? Slumps? Injuries? Guillen deployed a straight platoon in left field for nearly the entire second half.  Of the 26 games he started against left-handed pitchers, 21 came before the All-Star break, mainly because Pods couldn’t do anything with the bat after it.
The problem was that everybody else’s numbers slipped, too — especially against left-handed pitching.  Here’s how the splits break down:

Player
First
half vs. LHP
Second
half vs. LHP
Podsednik
.253/.316/.345
.150/.227/.150
Replacements
.429/.463/.524
.290/.327/.393
Thome
.257/.382/.394
.207/.316/.317
Konerko
.379/.463/.709
.250/.310/.457
Dye
.393/.486/.750
.284/.370/.545
Pierzynski
.299/.349/.377
.234/.246/.250
Crede
.314/.355/.529
.222/.323/.481

Pods actually had far more plate appearances against lefties than all the bench players combined in the first half (98 to 68), and that edge probably explains the edge he had in runs and RBI as mentioned earlier.
After faring an acceptable 20-16 against left-handed pitching in the first half, the Sox sank to 11-18 in the second.  Pods just happened to not be around for most of that.
The first half pitching line when Pods didn’t play as mentioned above, however, doesn’t correlate with the overall numbers in any way I can find.  Unless the guys on the mound felt extra confident with Pods patrolling left, those numbers appear to be merely random fluctuations.
So what do we know? In 2005, Pods was one of only two players with an above-average OBP.  As a result, it’s easy to see how his presence could help the Sox win many a tight game.
No such luck in 2006 — best I can tell, Pods’ most distinguishable feature was his left-handedness.
That’s not to say that he didn’t make a difference with right-handers on the mound.  He had a .386 OBP against righties in the first half, as opposed to .300 in the second, and that drop-off was a big reason in the team’s declining performance against righties as well.  That certainly could back up the claim that as Podsednik went, so went the White Sox.
At the same time, Rob Mackowiak sported a .384 OBP against righties all year long.  Had Brian Anderson made a better first impression, or had Ozzie viewed Ross Gload as a viable alternative in left, Pods might’ve been a benchwarmer when he stopped being an effective leadoff man.
When you factor in his stats with his subpar defense and struggles on the basepaths, it’s a gigantic leap to say the team was a mess whenever Pods wasn’t in the lineup. It’s probably safe to say that Ozzie deserves more credit for Pods’ record than Pods does, because he happened to pick the right days for Podsednik to sit.

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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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