I am going to go on record with something which may not be popular given the recent events in Major League Baseball. I have heard many whispers and rumblings about the sudden power developed by White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Here we sit in mid-August, and Pierzynski has already achieved a career high in home runs. Given the recent positive test and 50-game suspension of San Fransisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera, it wouldn’t be out of left field to question someone like A.J. Pierzynski.
The conversation is something that baseball has brought onto itself. Who knows exactly when it started, but it certainly went on for more than two decades, when players were routinely taking performance-enhancing drugs. In doing so, we saw home run numbers that often reached 50…60…or, on a rare occasion, 70 in a year. Now, a 50-home run season is something to be admired, as you can count on one hand the people who accomplish it each season (if any). But normally, a good power hitter will hit between 30-40 home runs, which is quite an accomplishment.
So Pierzynski’s jump in power at the age of 35 is definitely opposite of the norm for baseball players these days. In 2005, Pierzynski hit 18 home runs with the White Sox, and followed that up with 16, 14, 13 and 13 in the following years. The last two seasons, Pierzynski failed to even reach double digits. So the extraordinary jump in power reasonably causes one to wonder just how it’s possible.
There are a few reasons I am willing to back for this. First of all, I believe the biggest reason for his success is the two guys in front of him: Paul Konerko and Alex Rios. Konerko’s first half of the season consisted of him hitting everything in sight, and Rios has arguably been the White Sox MVP this season. Add Adam Dunn to the mix, who hits before Konerko, and by the time pitchers get to Pierzynski, the pitches have already begun to pile up.
Pierzynski’s place in the lineup is the first time in a while he has been put in a position to personally succeed. He has been all over in the lineup, including many times in the second spot, which has forced him to hit the opposite way or try and move a runner over. Having runners on base, and having a pitcher not want to add addition runners, would be reason enough for Pierzynski’s increased success. The numbers would back this up. With nobody on base, he is hitting .274 with a slugging percentage of .479. With men on, he is hitting .327 with a slugging percentage of .674.
Pierzynski seems to have a much different approach at the plate than he has had most of his career. He has 20 walks this season, and while it doesn’t seem like all that many, his career high is 25. He has had over 130 less plate appearances this season than that season. He also has 51 strikeouts, which can likely put him over his career high of 71 if he continues to get the at-bats. It’s obvious that Pierzynski has changed from a hitter who just tries to single his way on, to one who tries to drive the ball more.
Pierzynski is in a contract year, and it’s not unusual for players to have great seasons with so much incentive as a new contract. With a weak catching market, the price tag for Pierzynski will be a hefty one. Looking at deals given out to Yadier Molina, Jesus Montero and even Joe Mauer, the marketplace for A.J. will be a good one for him. It is unclear how the White Sox will approach his pending free agency, but for now they are concerned about one thing – getting the most out of their catcher and helping lead a young pitching staff to the playoffs.
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