The 2012 White Sox season has been all about the bizarre becoming familiar. In that vein, A.J. Pierzynski and Alex Rios stringing together back-to-back extra-base hits to account for the first run of Monday night’s affair has become commonplace, and Paul Konerko’s 7th inning blast was a pleasant surprise. Time was Pierzynski only hit singles and Rios didn’t get hits at all, but now they’re going back and forth for the team lead in slugging percentage.
While I recently addressed that Rios has been punishing baseballs with the wrath of a jilted lover since declaring on May 23rd that he needed to hit more home runs, Pierzynski’s recently-ended five-game home runs streak vaulted him into the lead. A.J.’s slugging .551, topping Rios’ still princely .542.
It’s good that they decided to have such a battle, or more, it’s necessary. Normally, having your #5 and #6 hitters launch very serious mid-season bids for Silver Slugger awards is enough to launch an offense into the upper stratosphere, but the White Sox offense is hovering around league average when adjusted for their ballpark, even a bit below.
The cause for such a curiosity is plain and disconcerting–Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko have been very ordinary since Rios’ role change.
Well, let’s not overstate their problems. Konerko has hit .287/.350/.447 with 10 home runs since that day in May (60 games), Dunn has hit a more troublesome .181/.312/.418 with 17 home runs and a 34% strikeout rate over 64 games. Konerko is still a good hitter at that production level, and even Dunn’s results aren’t disastrous. They’re just run-of-the-mill two-month lulls. The concern is if there’s anything permanent about the causes.
Konerko’s power–despite his denials–has been flagging ever since he had a stopgap procedure performed on the floating part of his left wrist, dropping down to levels unseen since 2009–when he also had hand issues. He’s been self-effacing enough in the past to give consideration to his word, but he’s been caught futzing over the same wrist recently. There’s also been the bad body language and self-jam jobs of previous slumps, and all-told, the bumps and bruises are making it hard for the 36 year-old to keep the late-career renaissance chugging at full steam at all times. He’s still got the ability, but staying healthy is only going to get harder.
Dunn’s problems are less nuanced, and thus less encouraging. He’s been striking out steadily at a massive 34-35% level all season long. The difference is that the first two months saw him punish the balls he made contact with at unheard of levels. At May 23rd, almost two-thirds of his hits had gone for extra-bases. It made for an isolated power score of .345, when Dunn’s career mark is .261. Since that day, Dunn’s ISO hase been back at .237. That’s not quite normal, but it’s a lot closer.
At his age, it’s far more likely that Dunn is seeing his ability make contact decline than it is that he discovered even more raw strength. These past two months have also been hindered by horrific batted ball luck that can’t entirely be explained by the shift, so his current slump isn’t exactly the new reality, but Dunn is going to be a ~.220 hitter for the foreseeable future, and will need all of his walks just to stay viable as a DH. That contract is never going to truly be lived up to, but it’s not like anyone expected that after 2011.
Or they’ll be fine.
That’s the beauty of worrying over the mediocre cross-sections of sluggers’ performances–it’s probably the worst they’ll do.
Alex Rios and A.J. Pierzynski have both relegated the practice of projecting White Sox hitters to the same realm as Phrenology, anyways.