At the age of 35 we rarely see a player at the catcher position have a career year at the plate. In fact, most catchers either become back-ups at the catcher position, moved to designated hitter or first base, or out of the league all-together. This season, though, A.J. Pierzynski is defying the odds and is on his way to having a historic season for a catcher 35 years of age or older.
A.J. Pierzynski enters today with a triple-slash line of .296/.348/.529 with a 129 wRC+ and 131 OPS+. Pierzynski came into the 2012 season with a career .284/.324/.422 triple-slash line and 94 OPS+. Pierzynski has never once slugged over .500 and his career best is .464 back in his age 26 season in 2003. Pierzynski’s highest OPS+ was 115 in that same season and highest wRC+ was 112 also in 2003.
Pierzynski currently sits at 300 plate appearances and his 16 homeruns match his second highest total in any season. His career high is 18 which he set back in 2005 in nearly 500 PAs. His ISO is .234 easily surpassing his career best mark of .163 in 2005. The odd part about his season is that his groundball, line-drive, and fly ball rate are all almost identical to his career marks. Take a look:
Pierzynski is not doing anything different with the balls he makes contact with. In fact, Pierzynski does not seem to be approaching his swing any differently either and is using the same whole-field approach he has through out his career but it so happens that a few more balls are leaving the yard than normal. The big difference has been in his homerun-to-fly ball rate which is at 20.3%, more than double his career rate. This is highly unsustainable but there is more to this power surge of Pierzynski’s that could lead to him still maintaining some of his power.
Pierzynski is walking at a career high rate. Yes, it is only 6.3% but his career rate is only 4.1% and he has never had a full season with a walk rate above 4.9%. He is being more selective but he is also striking out more with a 13.3% rate, his first season with a rate of 13% or higher since 2007 but his swinging strike rate is almost a full percentage below his career rate. It appears to me that Pierzynski is being more selective. He is also crushing sliders to the tune of +8.1 runs when he was at -11.3 for his career coming into 2012. He is also hitting fastballs to the tune of +4.8 runs when he was at -19.7 prior to 2012.
The more selective Pierzynski might be here to stay but a HR/FB rate of 20.3% is likely not. But, as much as non-White Sox fans like to root against Pierzynski, I am hoping he can maintain this pace enough to keep his slugging percentage above .500 and his OPS+ above 130 because only three other catchers in history have accomplished this feat at the age of 35 or older with a minimum of 400 PAs while playing at least 75% of their games behind the plate:
That is some pretty great company to be in. Not only is Pierzynski having a career year at the plate but his season may be rare from a historical perspective.
-Jonathan C. Mitchell can be found writing about the Tampa Bay Rays at DRaysBay and the Florida Marlins at ESPN’s SweetSpot site Marlins Daily. You can follow him on twitter at @FigureFilbert. Be sure to follow MLBdirt at @MLBdirt