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Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Patience paying off for Podsednik

By Hank Gargiulo
ESPN Stats & Information

The inside story of Scott Podsednik's success

Scott Podsednik left spring training without a job (the Rockies cut him on April 1). But the 33-year-old leadoff hitter has had a career renaissance with the White Sox, who signed him to a minor league deal two weeks later.

It's shades of 2005, when Podsednik made the All-Star team and helped guide the White Sox to a World Series title.

Podsednik has flourished because he's hitting inside pitches much better than he did in the previous two seasons. He also has become an incredibly patient hitter who doesn't waste pitches by whiffing at them.

Inside scoop: Podsednik isn't struggling against inside pitches like he did last season. He's gone from one of the worst against inside pitches to ranked in the top 30 in the majors.

Patience pays off: Podsednik has a top-20 first pitch seen percentage. That means he tries to get ahead of pitchers (batters hit almost 150 points higher on average when ahead in the count). He has swung just 46 times on the first pitch in 289 chances (15.9 percent). That usually allows him to see more pitches and tire out pitchers.

More importantly, when he does swing at the first pitch, he often gets a hit. He has 10 hits in 24 at-bats off the first pitch (.417).

Whiff-less ball: Swinging strikes are a waste for hitters. They show a pitcher's dominance and a hitter's foolishness more than foul balls, which often prolong at-bats, and called strikes.

Podsednik is excellent at not whiffing. Of the 22 leadoff hitters in the majors with at least 200 at-bats this season, only two (Juan Pierre and Jacoby Ellsbury) have struck out less than Podsednik (29 K's at leadoff).

He has just 38 misses in 468 swings (7.9 percent) -- which ranks him seventh in the majors. Meanwhile, Sox hitters Jim Thome and Josh Fields miss on almost a third of their swings. Teammate A.J. Pierzynski ranks 20th with just an 11.3 percent miss rate.

One thing to watch in the second half is whether Podsednik can improve his steal rate. He has the second-worst stolen base percentage in the American League among players with at least 15 attempts. Podsednik has 13 SB in 20 attempts (65 percent). Only Cleveland's Grady Sizemore (9 SB in 16 attempts; 56.3 percent) is worse.



Jim class: Hitting a fastball 101

If Jim Thome wants to turn it around in the second half, then he needs to start hitting fastballs. He ranks 197th out of 201 qualified hitters in batting average against heaters (.220). The MLB average is .283.

The slugger's average against fastballs has decreased over the past three seasons. And opponents have scouted that fact. Pitchers are now throwing Thome more and more fastballs. That has led to a sharp decrease in extra-base hits, and it's one of the reasons Thome is on pace for the fewest home runs (28) in a full season since 1995.

Thome has offset some of his lost offense with a big upswing in his performance against non-fastballs, batting .308 against them this year, up from .204 in 2008 and .212 in 2007.



Sticking a fork in Contreras' troubles

Jose Contreras lost his first five decisions to start off the 2009 campaign and found himself demoted to Triple-A in early May. Since returning in June, he has gone 4-2 with a 2.06 ERA.

How did Contreras do it? All he had to do was fork it over.

"It" is the ball. And his pitch is the forkball.

The forkball is similar to the split-fingered fastball but has a wider grip. Think of it as a hard sinking fastball.

He retooled the pitch in the minors, allowing him to use it more and his fastball less.

As long as Contreras has control of his forkball, the White Sox starter should be eating up innings and sending hitters back to the dugout without dinner.