Podsednik's wOBA so far in 2010 is .473 (Fangraphs), and it's safe to say that he's overperformed his true ability. But is this overperformance indicative of an increase in ability? To look at this, one set of early-season stats that has stability, even at his 60 PAs, is plate discipline. Is something in his plate discipline different so far this year from the past? What about 2009 (.338 wOBA) compared to his prior seasons (.310)?
First, swinging at pitches in/out of the strike zone:
What stands out is his MUCH higher % of balls offered at outside of the strike zone in 2009 and 2010 compared to his previous history. Prior to 2009, his highest O-Swing % was 18.6%.
In most cases, you would think "Oh no, he's chasing more pitches; his contact rate is going to be worse, his K's are going up, and his BB rate is going down". But we know that, on the contrary, Pods had a good hitting year in 2009--so what actually happened? His contact rates tell a big part of the story:
His aggressive approach improved his out-of-the-zone contact rate, and by double-digit % points! And, his in-zone and overall contact rates went up as well. Prior to 2009, his highest O-Contact % was 75.9% in 2008 (in fact it was between 70% and 76% from 2005 through 2008), which makes the jump to 2009 smaller, but still several % points. He has been an even freer swinger in 2010, and it has correlated with good results. Is he swinging freer in 2010 because it's been working well so far? Eventually the luck will run out, and he may begin to dial it back some, but the aggressive approach seems to accompany positive results, so I wouldn't expect it to disappear all of a sudden.
Knowing that his contact rate went up, you can guess that his K rate didn't increase, but actually decreased:
The K rate decreased substantially in 2009 and has dropped further this season. Small sample sizes are more of a factor here (150 PAs preferable), and the potential for Pods having seen lower-quality pitching and/or lucky strike/ball calls may be driving the difference. Same is true for the BB rate (200 PAs) in 2010, which if it stood up, would be a career high by 4 % points.
Pods is swinging more and having a higher success rate contacting the ball so far this season. It worked in 2009, and it's working so far in 2010. The potential hitches in this plan appear to be 1) a lower BB rate, which can be partially offset by a lower K rate, but 2) he probably needs a higher BABIP to offset the fewer free trips to first. And while BABIP needs even more PAs to stabilize, it should be contingent in large part on Pods's LD%. Here's some bad news:
Prior to his change in Plate discipline, in 2008, Pods had a career best LD%. After the change, in 2009, his LD% dropped to a CAREER WORST! His BABIP for these two seasons, however, were reversed (2009 was his 2nd-best career BABIP, 2008 was middling). One thing to take into consideration is that he was on the Rockies in 2008, so batted ball data can be skewed (park factors, NL/AL factors), but it's not like his HR rate was way up. He did only have 181 ML PAs in 2008, though.
Up until the LD%/BABIP conundrum, things were looking good for Podsednik: swing more, K less, hope that the aggressive approach leads to better batted-ball data, count on speed to increase the BABIP. But that plan won't work if the LD% drops. It has been high in 2010, but will it stay that way?