At the beginning of the year I wrote a piece for Baseball Prospectus essentially making fun of the Phillies for trying to wring blood out of the stones that are Juan Pierre and Scott Podsednik. It doesn't matter which one you choose, I wrote (I'm paraphrasing), because both are pretty much done. When trying to analyze baseball it's easy to avoid getting a big head.
Juan Pierre is hitting .315 with a .355 On-Base Percentage for the Phillies after beating Podsednik out for the the job. Obviously I got that one wrong, or at least I got it wrong in a small sample size. I wouldn't bet on it happening again or for a long period of time, but it happened. I'm pretty sure.
Even more amazing is what Scott Podsednik has done this season. He started the year in Triple-A Lehigh Valley after the Phillies sent him down. He played 23 games there and hit .197/.282/.211. Getting that from a 36-year-old doesn't exactly scream 'potential' and the Phillies
released him dealt him to Boston. The Red Sox, in the depths of their annual injury-fest (Injuryfest '12: the irritating-ing), picked Podsednik up for a half eaten bag of chips and through necessity threw him into their starting lineup. He responded by hitting .387/.409/.484 in 70 plate appearances before going on the Disabled List (more because the Red Sox didn't want to lose him than because he was seriously hurt).
But the point is Scott Podsednik posted an .893 OPS for the 2012 Boston Red Sox. That's just weird.
But of all the players who have contributed to the Red Sox this season, Scott Podsednik is hardly the strangest. Oh, he's strange, stranger than most I grant you, but Daniel Nava is stranger.As you likely know, Nava came up two years ago and hit a grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the majors. It was an amazing moment, one that makes you love baseball even more than you did a few seconds ago. If you hadn't seen it on live TV you'd have thought it a trashy Hollywood blockbuster ending, something that you'd see at the end of a movie and you'd lean over to your date and say "No way that really happens."
What happened afterwards was less storybook and more real life. Nava struggled and when the injured players returned he was sent back down. That was two years ago. Last year he was a 28-year-old with a .778 OPS in Triple-A. He was taken off the 40 man roster, exposing him to a claim by any other team in baseball for virtually nothing. Nobody bothered. He was so impressive and important to the Red Sox that he wasn't invited to Spring Training. That should have been a death knell to his Red Sox career. He was a guy with one shining moment on national TV and he'd forever have that to tell his kids, grandkids, everyone in the nursing home, and passers-by on the street about, but that's all he'd get. Right? Nope.
Nava was called up after the starting outfield and the top backups all went down with injury. I'd say all he's done is hit, but, at least to my eyes, he's played good defense too. But defense in left isn't his calling card. Getting on base is. Nava has hit a ridiculous .313/.429/.473 in 162 plate appearances. He has a high but not completely slash-line-destroying .333 BABIP. He's barreling the ball up. He's taking pitches. He got a double off Justin Verlander. He singled off Felix Hernandez. Dude can hit.
Whencomes back Carl Crawford will certainly play. His contract and player history dictate that he do so, but Nava has put himself in the discussion for playing time going forward. More importantly for our purposes here, Nava has been one of the most valuable Red Sox this season on a per-PA basis. He has a 144 OPS+ (44 percent above the average OPS in baseball (not based on position, so it includes every hitter)) and has been worth more than two wins according to Baseball Reference's WAR (Fan Graphs has him at 1.8, likely based on defensive value).
The point is, Nava has stepped in and played at a star level. In that short time, he's not just played Carl Crawford's position, but he's filled in as the best possible version of Crawford.
Nava isn't the end of the list either. Scott Atchison, last night not withstanding, has been a rock out of the bullpen. Kelly Shoppach has hit like an All Star as a back up catcher. Ryan Sweeney has done a spot on "Mikey Doubles" Lowell impression, Franklin Morales's strikeout rate has been astronomical after moving to the rotation, Will Middlebrooks has hit like he's still in Double-A when he's starting in Boston, Andrew Miller has been useful (!!!), and Mike Aviles has handled shortstop like the best possible version of himself. That's quite the lengthy list, eh?
I root for the Red Sox, so when Carl Crawford puts on a Red Sox jersey I become a Carl Crawford fan. Same goes for Alfredo Aceves and/or any player who used to beat the Red Sox routinely. But it's an undeniable fact of fandom that players like Daniel Nava, players like, and I can't believe I'm writing this, Scott Podsednik, are easy to root for. Guys who weren't only not expected to help, but were actively thought incapable of doing anything useful have stepped in and kept the Red Sox season alive. It's been an odd season and the Red Sox have got value and production from odd places. But sometimes, that's what makes it fun.