A.J. Pierzynski hits a home run at Yankee Stadium. (photo: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE)

Old Man Finds New Power


 

 

Who leads the White Sox in home runs at the All-Star Break? Yes, of course it’s Adam Dunn. But who’s second on the team? Nope, it’s not Paul Konerko. Not so easy, is it (unless you looked at the title of this post, or the picture that accompanies it, in which case your powers of deduction have probably led you to the correct answer)? A.J. Pierzynski.

Pierzynski is having the best offensive season of his career, on pace for career highs in runs, RBI, and walks, which simply isn’t something that happens for a lot of 35-year-olds. His .285 batting average is right in line with his career norm (.284) and his .338 OBP, while a step above his career .324 mark, is not dramatically higher. The eye-opening difference between the 2012 edition of Pierzynski and all earlier models is the power; his .527 slugging percentage would shatter his previous best mark of .464, set back in 2003 with the Twins. He already has 16 home runs, putting him on pace for 31.

Now, I don’t think Pierzynksi is going to hit 30+ home runs, but let’s allow ourselves to imagine he keeps his pace and does it. As I said,  Pierzynski is 35 years old; there simply aren’t a lot of baseball players who manage to hit 30+ home runs, never having done it before, at such an advanced age*.

* All ages in this article are based on the player’s age as of June 30th of each season, some players may have begun the season one year younger, or finished it one year older, depending on their actual birthday.

Oldest Players to Hit 30+ Home Runs for the First Time:

Player

Year

Team

Age

HR

Rico Carty

1978

A’s/Blue Jays

38

31

Chili Davis

1997

Royals

37

30

Carlton Fisk

1985

White Sox

37

37

Edgar Martinez

2000

Mariners

37

37

George Crowe

1957

Reds

36

31

Luke Easter

1952

Indians

36

31

Cy Williams

1923

Phillies

35

41

Dolph Camilli

1941

Dodgers

34

34

Raul Ibanez

2006

Mariners

34

33

Terry Steinbach

1996

Athletics

34

35

Jose Valentin

2004

White Sox

34

30

Tillie Walker

1922

Athletics

34

37

Pierzynski would tie Cy Williams as the 7th oldest player ever to hit 30+ HR for the first time.

But most of the guys on that list had other pretty strong home run hitting seasons in their earlier years, their 30+ season came after they’d hit 25 or more a couple times, then they finally broke the 30-HR barrier. Pierzynski’s previous high is only 18 though. So, let’s look at only those players who hit 30+ without ever having hit even 20 home runs in a season before.

Oldest Players to Hit 30+ Home Runs Without Ever Hitting 20+ Before:

Player

Year

Team

Age

HR/Previous Best

George Crowe

1957

Reds

36

31/15

Terry Steinbach

1996

Athletics

34

35/16

Bob Cerv

1958

Athletics

33

38/11

Walker Cooper

1947

Giants

32

35 / 13

Lefty O’Doul

1929

Phillies

32

32 / 8

Steve Finley

1996

Padres

31

30 / 11

Jeff King

1996

Pirates

31

30 / 18

Benito Santiago

1996

Phillies

31

30 / 17

Hank Sauer

1948

Reds

31

35 / 5

Sid Gordon

1948

Giants

30

32 / 8

Bobby Grich

1979

Angels

30

30 / 19

Davey Johnson

1973

Braves

30

43 / 18

Hideki Matsui

2004

Yankees

30

31 / 16

As you can see, Pierzynksi would become the second-oldest player EVER to jump from a career high of fewer than 20 home runs, up to 30+! Only thirteen other players in history have done it at the age of 30 or older, and almost half of those players deserve an asterisk: Crowe, Cooper, O’Doul, and Sauer were all playing in their first full (500+ PA) season when they hit 30+, segregation, World War II, and injuries had kept each of them from reaching their full potential until then; Matsui only came to the U.S. when he was 29, he’d hit more than 20 home runs in Japan multiple times before first doing it here.

Pierzynski had played in 1,494 games before this year began, spread over 14 seasons, no one on that list approaches that many appearances before they hit 30 home runs for the first time, only Steinbach (1,054) and Santiago (1,110) had played in as many as 1,000 games, and so only the two of them would really be comparable, should Pierzynski manage to do it.

Random aside: What was going on in 1996, when four players made the jump?!

Pierzynski would need to keep up his unprecedented run in order to hit 30, which is why I expect he’ll fall short. He had a great first-half though, and even without hitting 30, this could be an historic home run hitting season for him because of the position he plays. Only 12 catchers in history have collected 500+ plate appearances at the age of 35 or older, so Pierzynski would be joining a small club even in that regard. Only Carlton Fisk ever hit 30+ home runs at such an age and even dropping the cut off to 20+ home runs, only two other names join the list.

Most Home Runs by a Catcher, Age 35 or Older:

Player

Year

Team

Age

HR

Carlton Fisk 1985 White Sox 37 37
Carlton Fisk 1983 White Sox 35 26
Carlton Fisk 1987 White Sox 39 23
Jorge Posada 2009 Yankees 37 22
Mike Piazza 2006 Padres 37 22
Carlton Fisk 1984 White Sox 36 21
Jorge Posada 2007 Yankees 35 20

Pierzynski needs 4 home runs in the second-half to become the 4th catcher on the list; if he can hit 7 more, he’ll be in territory previously visited by only Fisk. That’s the target I’m setting for Pierzynski: 7 more home runs, to get to 23 for the year.

Will he do it???

 

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