Why I Belive that Scott Podsednik is at Best an Average Major League Baseball Player

>> Saturday

I have been accused lately by one Matt Z. of being too stat-obsessed (particularly with SLG% and OBP) in my analysis of baseball players. It has been said that I--and other statniks like me--overrate players like Adam Dunn who produce excellent OBPs and power numbers and underrate guys with purportedly less-tangible skills (e.g. Scott Podsednik).

I believe this is a false accusation. Ever since Moneyball came out, us analytical types have been labeled as hung-up on walks and dingers, while caring nothing for speed and contact hitting. What more, there is the feeling that we view players too robotically and have no appreciation for "effort", "grit", "hustle", etc.

As for the second accusation, I fairly readily admit to this thinking but, quite frankly, find no fault in it. For the most part, these so-called intangible qualities are nothing more than fall-back terms that sportscasters use when they have nothing meaningful to say. What good is effort if a guy has single-A talent? And the idea that certain players try significantly less hard to succeed than others is utterly absurd.

As for the speed and contact hitting, I don't for a second discount their value in the game. Can a contact hitter be just as valuable as Adam Dunn or Jim Thome? Undoubtedly. But here brings us to the whole point of slugging percentage--it's a measure to show not just how often a player hits his way on (i.e. batting average) but to measure the impact of those hits.

Was Ichiro's .372 BA in 2004 productive despite being almost exclusively singles-based and accompanied by few walks? Without question. But please don't tell me that Scott Podsednik's .290 BA last year (accomplished in much the same style as Ichiro's in 2004) was more productive than Adam Dunn's total offensive output, just because Dunn's BA was significantly lower.

The reason people overrate contact hitters is pure perception. A higher batting average and higher rate of contact in general means less frequent failures (swings and misses, popouts, etc.), which to a fan seem worse. It looks bad when a guy loads up and whiffs or pops up with the bases loaded, whereas a guy almost legging out an infield hit or slapping a weak line drive out looks more productive.

As far as speed is concerned, the ability to run fast is without a doubt important. It would be stupid to ignore that fact. Having said that, I believe that speed right now is an overvalued commodity. Can speed make up for some deficiency in extra-base hits? Of course. Speed can turn would-be doubles into triples, (though less often) singles into doubles, and runs in situations when another player would be held at third. But this plays no advantage over the player who can rake loads of doubles and homers simply on hitting the ball hard much more often.

Yes, Scott Podsednik took some extra bases last year. He also stole a ton, which put him in scoring position more often than many players with more extra base hits. But stealing bases often incurs much more risk than this reward accounts for. In Podsednik's case, he created more than twenty outs last year by being caught on the basepaths, which more or less nullifies those hits. This must be taken into account when looking at the productivity of that .290 BA.

It all relates back to the Moneyball mantra. Right now, what does the market overvalue in baseball? I believe it is these type of players--guys with above average speed and high, though unproductive, batting averages. I think it has come to be as a backlash from the "steroid era" where too many players tried to adopt a power game despite not naturally possessing the proper skill set and playing style to do so. Now GMs want to build a contrasting style, and perhaps, fans want to see this as well.

Why else would Johnny Damon and Rafael Furcal have gotten over $10 million per year contracts this last offseason? I estimate that these players are worth no more than about $5 million worth of production based (somewhat arbitrarily, I'll admit) on current MLB payrolls. And why do guys like Podsednik and David Eckstein still get more press than Travis Haffner? It's nothing more than a current perception that players of this style are more desireable.

Update:

One more point I'd originally meant to include. People (like the aforementioned Matt Z.) often assert that a good team "needs" guys like Podsednik in their lineup on top of their big money mashers. I wholly disagree with this point.

First of all, the idea that an unequivocally weaker hitter is desirable because he provides "balance" in the lineup is total tripe. The reason people believe this idea is that winning teams (and all teams for that matter) typically have the proverbial "balanced" structure. This has nothing to do with the value of "balance" but everything to do with other pragmatic considerations, such as the need to fill each position defensively and the natural aportionment of great offensive talent throughout the leage.

The point is that--again, speaking strictly in terms of offense--a team of guys in the Adum Dunn/Jim Tome mold could win just as well as a team of guys in the Ichiro Suzuki/Michael Young mold, who would win just as well as the mixed bag team of great hitters. (Of course, this is meant to be very hypothetical, given that assembling these teams would be possible and that the lineups are filled with players of equal overall ability to produce offense.) The teams would all just win in very different ways.

1 comments:

Matt 5:42 PM  

You're preachin' to the choir, homes. Well done.

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