By Eriq Gardner //
Dan Goldstein, a psychologist at Columbia University, once did a famous study where he asked college students in Germany and America to identify the larger city — San Diego or San Antonio.
A majority of American college students guessed San Antonio. A majority of German college students guessed San Diego. The Germans were correct.
The takeaway from this study was not that Germans are better at demography than the Americans. Rather, most Germans had never heard of San Antonio. They didn’t know it was a booming town, rated as one of the best places to live in the United States, home to a highly successful basketball franchise. They guessed San Diego because of the name recognition factor.
I’ve thought about this study when contemplating all the people in fantasy leagues this year who drafted Scott Podsednik and have enjoyed his seven steals in his first 12 games of the season, not to mention his .457 average to date.
Podsednik wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near this good. Those in the know may have targeted Julio Borbon or Nyjer Morgan as their cheap speed guy. Or maybe the smart money was on Rajai Davis, Elvis Andrus, Michael Bourn, or Alcides Escobar. Even if you were picking a reclamation project in his 30s, Juan Pierre was most people’s target, not Podsednik.
Podsednik has been better than all of the above players two weeks into the season, and I can’t help but think he ended up being owned in many leagues by the person who is least obsessive about the opinions of others. After all, Podsednik was not a sexy choice at all in drafts this year. Instead, those who drafted him may have associated him with 212 steals between 2003 and 2006. He was a burner back then. But that was supposed to be ancient history.
Now, Podsednik is 34 years old, a time when players are supposed to be on their last legs — especially players whose genetic gift was quick feet.
He’s on pace for more than 90 steals, which is amazing considering that Bloomberg Sports had him pegged at just 20. So the question is whether Podsednik can get to 50. That would make him, pardon the pun, a draft steal.
Baseball Reference lists several players in history who have similar statistical profiles to Podsednik’s career. From that list, I took the players who played in 1980 or after so as to try to understand what we can expect from a 34-year-old who has burnished his reputation as a base theft artist. Here are the results:
As you’ll see, none of these players came close to 50. The closest, Al Bumbry, topped out at 22 steals in 1981, playing for the Baltimore Orioles.
Maybe Podsednik hasn’t been given a fair shake in his career. He’s played in an era where managers increasingly value getting on base, and he’s been somewhat subpar there. As a result, he’s been a bit of a journeyman these past few years, fighting for playing time. What if we group him among the great speed threats of our era?
A mixed bag. The great Ricky Henderson stole 53 in 1993 playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, and Otis Nixon swiped 47. But we also see that Tim Raines and Kenny Lofton had mostly lost their wheels by age 34.
Looking back at 2009 for Podsednik, he quietly put up 30 stolen bases. Breaking it down by month, he stole nine bags in June and eight in August, but just three in May and four in July. That’s probably what we can expect from him this season too: inconsistency. He’ll have great months and some poor months.
Maybe it’s possible that owners who drafted him are similar to the Germans who tabbed San Diego in that study, and will prove the experts wrong. Or maybe we can discount the Podsednik Phenomenon as another illustrative example of why it’s foolish to chase early stats.
We’re betting on the latter. If you own him and can sell high, do it.