“I don’t need any motivation from some guy who sits
behind a desk and probably doesn’t know a thing about
how to steal bases or play the game.” – Scott
, referring to the authors of
Baseball Prospectus

Sure, Podsednik was merely responding to a softball
question from Cleveland Plain-Dealer reporter
Dennis Manoloff when he threw down the gauntlet. No
doubt facing deadline on a slow news day, Manoloff
served up the speedy left fielder’s player comment
from BP
, knowing it would elicit a reaction.
We’ll save you the trouble of flipping to the page:
“If utilized properly, he could be a nice bench
player, but as the White Sox starting left fielder,
he’s going to do quite well in helping Minnesota win
another AL Central crown.” With the Sox sporting the
best record in the game, it’s fair to say we whiffed,
big time.

On the White Sox, that is. For all the acclaim he has
received, though–including a ridiculous Final Man
vote-in over Derek Jeter and other
far more qualified candidates–Podsednik ranks just 9th
among the American League’s 14 starting left
in VORP. In other words,
while Podsednik’s 50 steals in 60 tries heading into
Sunday’s game looked shiny, his .293/.344/.362 line
(with zero homers) to that stage didn’t. To his
credit, Podsednik’s been the best defensive left
fielder in the AL, saving 9 runs above a
league-average LF. Still, that adds up to a
middle-of-the-pack player, and not the supposed
catalyst that’s turned the White Sox into runaway
winners. Mark Buehrle, Jon
and a surprisingly dominant bullpen
deserve a far greater share of the credit.

All this was the backdrop to Sunday’s contest between
the White Sox and the Red Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
Clay Davenport, Chris Kahrl, Nate Silver and I were on
hand to take in the game. Alas, we forgot to bring
desks to sit behind. Les jeux sont fait, Scott,
let’s see what you can do.

Red Sox
CF Johnny Damon
3B Bill Mueller
DH David Ortiz
LF Manny Ramirez
RF Trot Nixon
1B Kevin Millar
C Jason Varitek
SS Alex Cora
2B Tony Graffanino

The buzz around U.S. Cellular Field revolves around
the rumored possible deal for A.J.
. Burnett would figure to replace
Jose Contreras, Sunday’s starter, in
the rotation. With the AL Central looking like a lock
and Buehrle, Garland and Freddy
a strong trio for a short playoff
series, it’s hard to see how Burnett helps much other
than on the margins as well as beyond 2005–assuming
the Sox ink him to a contract. Leaving aside the
utility of the deal and how the Sox will score runs if
Frank Thomas stays on the DL for
several weeks with a bum ankle, Contreras has started
to unravel after a hot start. After a strong
performance June 7 at Colorado dropped his ERA down to
3.13, Contreras has added more than a run to that
mark, throwing only three quality starts in the seven
outings since.

The 1st inning of Sunday’s game starts on an equally
inauspicious note, as David Ortiz
takes Contreras deep for a quick 1-0 lead. It’s over
100 degrees at the Cell, and the ball seems to be
hopping off hitters’ bats. Throw in Contreras needing
24 pitches to get through the first despite allowing
only Ortiz’s homer, and we may see 37,000 roasted fans
by the 5th.

White Sox
LF Scott Podsednik
2B Tadahito Iguchi
RF Carl Everett
DH Paul Konerko
C A.J. Pierzynski
CF Aaron Rowand
1B Ross Gload
3B Joe Crede
SS Pablo Ozuna

The stultifying heat is already bearing down on us,
and it becomes clear the only way to avoid getting
loopy is to taunt Podsednik’s every at-bat. After
taking a strike looking, Podsednik taps a ball to
short. Having demonstrated how superior his speed and
baserunning skills are, it seems clear he should beat
the play to first. Instead a strong throw by Cora gets
Podsednik by a half-step. Taunts rain down from
Section 542.

Tadahito Iguchi then kicks off
what’ll be a big day for him, lacing a single to left.
A Carl Everett single and
Paul Konerko double gives the White
Sox a 2-1 lead. Bronson Arroyo may
not last long either.

Yup, the ball is flying. Trot Nixon
leads off the 2nd with a sharp single. Jason
follows two batters later with a line
drive to center that carries and carries for a long
double. After an Alex Cora sacrifice
fly puts the Bosox back up, Tony
nearly hits an improbable
opposite-field jack, the heat propelling an apparent
medium-deep fly ball all the way to the warning track.
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of park factor
U.S. Cellular gets by year’s end; the White Sox rank
4th in the AL in home runs, with unlikely boppers such
as Everett and A.J. Pierzynski
hitting well above their recent career levels.

With two outs in the bottom of 2nd, Podsednik comes up
again. Aside from being homerless on the year,
Podsednik has also yet to bang out a triple all year,
a surprise for a hitter with his speed and more fodder
for our crazed jeering section. When Podsednik yanks a
ball to the right-field corner, then stops at second
on what looked like a sure triple, the taunting heats
up some more. Iguchi, who nearly sat for this game due
to the heat, works a seven-pitch full count, then hits
a liner to right that scoots over the wall for a
heat-aided two-run homer. White Sox lead 4-2. The Red
Sox fail to score in the top of the 3rd, the first
scoreless half-inning of the day.

The home squad comes right back with another run in
the bottom of the 3rd. A Ross Gload
flyball that would be an out on most other days
carries for an RBI double. White Sox lefty hitters
would go 5-for-12 with a walk for the game, exploiting
Arroyo’s weakness. For the year, the corn-rowed
righty’s ceded a huge .288/.338/.492 line vs.
lefties, just .209/.266/.325 vs. righties. That
follows a .768 OPS allowed vs. LH in 2004 (vs. .656
vs. RH). Though Arroyo has shown flashes of
excellence, he’s not the front-line starter the team
needs with the departure of Pedro
and Curt
‘s taking hold. For all the South
Side buzz, it’s the Red Sox–armed with a deeper, more
dangerous offense but shorter on pitching–that could
really use Burnett.

The game wears on with little in the way of subtlety
or clever strategies on display. A two-out Varitek
homer in the 6th cuts the margin to two, the ball
rocketing out on an improbably far opposite-field
journey. After falling behind 6-3, the Red Sox come
back to score another in the 9th before Dustin
gets back on his Mariano
-like pace, setting down potential
tying runs Nixon and John Olerud to
lower his ERA to 1.91 despite his ugly 19:12 K-to-BB
rate over 37.2 innings. Final score: 6-4 White Sox.

How long Hermanson and Cliff Politte
squirm out of trouble and avoid reverting to their
formerly hittable selves could decide the White Sox’s
season down the road; the club would do well to think
twice about trading away Damaso
. For today, there’s no doubting the
victors. The White Sox woke up this morning with a
65-33 record and a 12-game lead on the Twins.

And what of our hero Podsednik? The scrappy one had a
banner day at the plate, going 3-for-4 to raise his
average to .299 (another three-hit game Monday landed
him at .302/.368/.361 for the year). He should
continue to be a useful player on a team filled with
several brighter stars. Ah, but what did he do on the
bases, the place where he supposedly sets himself
apart from the propeller-wearing, slide-rule holders
of the sabermetric realm? In the 7th, Podsednik rapped
another shot to the gap, saw Johnny
fall down, yet again refused to break
for third.

The worst insult of all happened in the 4th. After
Podsednik singled with two outs, Arroyo became fixated
on Iguchi, in the midst of his big 3-for-4, three-RBI
day. Allowed a big lead and not even a glance over to
first, Podsednik got a huge jump as he took off for
second. The steal seemingly in the bag, Varitek made a
rushed, desperate attempt to nail Podsednik at
second–and gunned him out handily. With no Red Sox or
White Sox fans among our group, the BP four had no
strong allegiances that day. Still, as Podsednik
looked up in disbelief after the play, a lone, lanky
lunatic shouted mercilessly at the Sox spark plug. And
why not? Davenport would’ve beaten the play by a mile.

The next Prospectus Game of the Week happens Sunday,
July 31 at 4 p.m. ET, as the Cincinnati Reds visit the
San Diego Padres (Channel 740 on DirecTV’s MLB Extra
Innings). Eric Milton goes for home
run allowed #97 of the season, while Woody
pitches in front of family man
Phil Nevin and the rest of the
first-place Pads.

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