After two straights seasons on the bench and after having to sign a minor league deal, Scott Podsenik's time as a possible starter appeared to be over. Instead the 33-year old did his Lazarus imitation and ended up with 587 plate appearances, 30 steals, a .304 batting average, and a respectable .353 OBP. While teams were not necessarily knocking down doors to acquire a player with a checkered offensive history who will be 34 on opening day, he did still manage to land a starting gig on a team that has few players or prospects capable of challenging him, even though he does rate as a sub-par center fielder.
So the opportunity is here for Podsednik to bat leadoff and to achieve close to, if not more, than 600 plate appearances. The questions are – can he? And just did he manage to climb back from the abyss anyway?
As to the latter part - what we really saw was a player in being in the right place at the right time as the White Sox did not bring in any name centerfielders and instead elected to trot out their young players like Brian Anderson for one more try. We know how that worked out.
Sure, Podsednik improved his contact making skills, striking out 13.8|PERCENT| of the time compared to his career 16.2|PERCENT| mark, but is not a significant difference at all. Still that, improved contact making skill combined with continuing to be a dominant ground ball hitter at 52.9|PERCENT| (50.1|PERCENT| for his career), and finally above average foot speed (speed score of 6.4 in '09 and 7.1 for his career) let him achieve a career high infield hit rate of 11.|PERCENT| compared 8.8|PERCENT| for his career. The result was a .304 batting average and a .342 BABIP. Interestingly his line-drive rates were down compared to his career norms (17.6|PERCENT| compared to 20.3|PERCENT|), so the added ground balls and improved contact really were the keys to that .304 batting average.
Going forward we know Podsednik will be primarily a ground ball hitter who because of his sub 30|PERCENT| fly-ball rates is unlikely to top 10 home runs, but could once again steal 30 to 40 or more bases depending on his manager's tendencies. It is also possible that his batting average may not slip too much from the .304, even if he regresses in terms of making less contact and achieving a lower percentage of infield hits as his line-drive rates could also regress towards his career marks. He is a reasonable option for 2010 whose price may not be too expensive given the recent ups and downs of his career. Take advantage of that.
Where he has gotten in trouble in the past is when he has gotten fly-ball happy. For instance his 35|PERCENT| mark with the Brewers in 2004, his sophomore year, he managed just a .244 batting average and .313 OBP while the rest of his skills were almost identical to the season before. The difference was a .362 BABIP vs. a .275. The lesson is simple and hopefully one Podsednik has long since learned –don't play too far outside of the game that works for you.