Suggesting changes in hitting approach for established major-leaguers is a reliable way to waste breath. At the major league level, those that can, do. If the free-swinging singles-hitter with no OBP skills had the tools to sit on fastballs and golf them into the parking lot, they probably would.
Brent Lillibridge sought to destroy this notion last season, but was eventually brought back into cold grip of reality. But now A.J. Pierzynski is the one flouting logic by having the best season of his life at 35…by becoming an entirely different hitter.
If you’re unfamiliar with Pierzynski’s approach of the last few years–he never walked, he never struck out, and he rarely did things besides single to right field. He just matched his career-high in home runs from 2005 with 18, but even that year was an outlier from his career record.
This season, Pierzynski has walked in 5.8% of his plate appearances–small potatoes, but enough for the most walk-heavy season of his career. He’s struck out in 14% of his plate appearances–perfectly normal, but more than double the rate he whiffed at last season. And it’s hard to overstate the increase in power production–Pierzynski has 18 HR when last year he had eight. His isolated power is .236; if you added his ISO from the last two seasons together it’d be .237.
Thanks to Lillibridge, we’ve seen random power spikes before, and A.J.’s somewhat listless beginning to the 2nd half seem to indicate things were headed back to normal. Then he complained of an oblique strain, missed a week, and returned to hit two home runs out of Target Field in only two games he’s played since. If you think it’s easy for lefties to yank balls out of Target Field, Joe Mauer has words for you.
Which points to the problem in predicting Pierzynski to level off. He’s earning these home runs, they’re not wall-scrapers, or being aided by lucky gusts of wind. Only four of his 18 home runs could be said to have benefitted from the small confines of the ballpark he was playing in, and only one of those actually took place in U.S. Cellular Field. He’s always had large raw power and strength when gets into one, and the 388 feet he’s averaging on home runs this season is one of his lower figures of the last six years.
A.J. could always crank it, but he generally didn’t, because his approach was all about making contact. and maybe he just isn’t normally this good at squaring balls up. There’s nothing in his plate discipline numbers to indicate he’s suddenly looking for pitches to drive, or even swinging harder, so it’s hard to make a conclusion much more definitive than “he’s in a groove.”
That’s not a satisfying explanation come contract time, but since it’s managed to carry over to the 2nd half and through an oblique strain, perhaps just enjoying the ride is an appropriate reaction. We’re White Sox fans after all, worrying about sustainably doesn’t suit us.