As Royals fans, we’re used to grumbling about plate discipline.  Or rather the lack of plate discipline.  It’s a  story that is all too familiar.

Fortunately, we now have the on base machine known as Scotty Pods… Scott Podsednik.

Through his first 13 games, Podsednik is hitting .449/.526/.469.  His batting average and on base percentage top the AL leaderboard.  Yes, it is a small sample size.  However, do not discount how difficult it is to even have a small sample size this good.

How is he doing this?

Start with his batting average on balls in play.  His BABIP is .512.  Holy cow.  Over half the balls he put in play are falling for hits.  If this is the case, he must be scorching line drives, right?  After all, it’s universally accepted that line drives fall for base hits roughly 70% of the time.  So if Podsednik is piling up the base hits like this, he must have an astronomical line drive rate, correct?

Not really.

Podsednik’s line drive rate is 28%.  It’s above his career rate of 20%, but still… Crazy.  How about his other hits?  Well, he is hitting a lot more ground balls this year.  His GB/FB ratio currently stands at 3.83.  To his credit, Podsednik has always seemed to understand his game… His legs will take him as far as he can go as a ballplayer.  His best opportunity to use those legs come when he hits the ball on the ground.  For his career, he owns a 1.72 GB/FB ratio.

(As I alluded to, one thing missing from his game is power.  He certainly won’t boost his slugging percentage by hitting ground balls up the middle.  And while his line drive rate is impressive, it’s not like he’s cracking the ball and splitting the outfielders.  No, most of his line drives are dropping in front of the outfielders.  In other words, we’re dealing with a singles hitter.  You know what?  No shame in that.)

So Podsednik his hitting more line drives and more ground balls.  Basically, he’s keeping the ball out of the air. – just 15% of his batted balls are classified as fly balls.    It’s an approach that is working.

Speaking of Podsednik’s approach… It shouldn’t come as a surprise he’s become incredibly selective at the plate.

Here are his percentages over the previous five seasons of how often he’s swung at a pitch that is in the strike zone:

2006 – 53.8%
2007 – 56.2%
2008 – 52.9%
2009 – 54.6%
2010 – 46.0%

He’s been fairly consistent through out his career, but now he’s really tightened his personal zone.  Based on his elevated BABIP and line drive rate, I would hypothesize Podsednik is laying off those pitches in the zone that he would have difficulty squaring up and driving.

Look at his contact rate when swinging at pitches in the strike zone:

2006 – 93.5%
2007 – 90.2%
2008 – 94.4%
2009 – 95.2%
2010 – 94.1%

He’s always made contact (in play or foul) when swinging at pitches in the strike zone.  Most hitters do.  Since his contact rate in this category hasn’t moved while his swing percentage has decreased, that further supports the idea he’s become incredibly selective.  His contact rates are unchanged, yet the results are increasingly positive.

The by product of this is Podsednik’s walk rate is through the roof (for him.)  He’s drawn a base on balls in 13% of his plate appearances this year.  Look how that compares over the previous few years:

2006 – 9.1%
2007 – 5.5%
2008 – 8.8%
2009 – 6.6%
2010 – 13.3%

So we have a hitter who’s become more selective at the plate, which has led to improved contact and an elevated walk rate.  This has all led to his astronomical on base percentage.

About the base running…  It’s true this isn’t a particular skill of his.  He’s already been picked off once, been caught stealing once and made one other out on the base paths.  At times, he just seems kind of clueless. Imagine how many bases he could take if he was actually comfortable out there.  At any rate, he’s not a particularly good base runner.  However, I will cut him some slack for the time being… Because he’s freaking getting on base 53% of the time.

Podsednik has hit second in the order every game except one where he hit leadoff.  Ideally, you’d have your best on base guy hitting at the top, but number two is just fine.  Every time Trey Hillman moves Alberto Callaspo in the top third and he goes 0-4, I start to believe just a little more that players do perform a certain way given their spot in the lineup.  (I still maintain Callaspo should hit higher in the order, but if Podsednik keeps outperforming expectations, this becomes a moot point.  Besides, if Callaspo gets mentally blocked or whatever by hitting up in the order, it kind of puts the kibosh on any potential gains.)

Will Podsednik maintain his level of offensive play?  No way.  There will be a correction. However, if he keeps his approach unchanged when the hits stop falling, any cold spell could be relatively short-lived.

Fingers crossed that Podsednik keeps this approach through the season.