The A.J. Pierzynski Swing Streak

Most baseball fans know who A.J. Pierzynski is. Maybe that’s wrong, so let’s try it again. Many baseball fans know who A.J. Pierzynski is. 36 years old, catcher, veteran. Debuted in 1998. Made a couple All-Star Games. But Pierzynski’s a rare sort who might be better known for his personality than for his talents. People have a stronger impression of how Pierzynski acts than how Pierzynski plays, and it’s not just fans who find him to be rather off-putting, as MLB polls have pointed to Pierzynski as the game’s most hated player. He can be obnoxious, and he’s got a mouth on him, and one would never elect to describe A.J. Pierzynski as “quiet”.

But I think Pierzynski’s quiet about his actual game. Or, when people choose to give him attention, they don’t give attention to his performance. Statistically, he just quietly goes about his business, being adequate without ever really being good or bad. There’s not a lot there worth talking about, so many people might not realize just how aggressive Pierzynski is at the plate. He very seldom walks. He somewhat less seldom strikes out. He makes a lot of contact, and he’s been programmed to swing. Pierzynski is a freer swinger than you might think, because odds are you haven’t given much thought to Pierzynski’s plate discipline. What would be the point? There’s more interesting stuff about him, and there’s more interesting stuff about other players.

This season, 350 players have batted at least 200 times. Pierzynski leads them all in swing rate, right at three out of five. There’s Adam Jones in second, but he’s in second by two full percentage points, which is more than the difference between third and tenth. Pierzynski has swung at 60% of pitches, and Pierzynski has not seen 60% of his pitches get thrown in the strike zone. Thus, Pierzynski is also the current league leader in swing rate at pitches out of the zone, at 47%. Just in case “current league leader” doesn’t drive the point home, Pierzynski’s beating Jeff Francoeur, Delmon Young, and Josh Hamilton. He’s beating Pablo Sandoval. He’s beating everyone. Pierzynski’s been swinging a lot, and this has just forever been a part of his game. He’s never swung at less than 55% of pitches in a season, and for his career he’s at 58%.

This is a remarkable position for a fairly unremarkable on-paper player. And Pierzynski being such a free swinger got me thinking about season-long streaks. The first thing I wondered: what’s been Pierzynski’s longest streak this season of taking pitches? That is, what’s the highest number of pitches he’s taken in a row? The answer is eight, and he’s had two such streaks. Between August 26 – August 27, Pierzynski took eight straight pitches, four for strikes. Before that streak, he swung at five out of six pitches, and 14 out of 18. After that streak, he swung at five straight pitches.

On September 13, Pierzynski again took eight straight pitches, two for strikes. Before that streak, he swung at 17 out of 22 pitches. After that streak, he swung at five straight pitches. When Pierzynski gets patient, he doesn’t get patient for long — he wants to be up there hacking, provided the pitcher cooperates, or even if he doesn’t. He’ll swing, in time, and he’ll do it often.

The second thing I wondered: the opposite of this. Okay, so we have non-swing streaks. Eight pitches, two-way tie. What’s been Pierzynski’s longest streak this season of swinging at pitches? That is, what’s the highest number of pitches he’s swung at in a row? The answer isn’t nine, although Pierzynski’s done that. The answer isn’t ten, although Pierzynski’s done that, too. The answer is 14. Between May 21 – May 22, A.J. Pierzynski swung at 14 consecutive pitches from Oakland A’s pitchers.

I don’t know if that’s the longest streak of this season for any player. If it’s not, though, it’s got to be close, and I figured this was worthy of some review. My second-favorite part, aside from the reality of the streak itself: May 21 was Pierzynski’s first game back from the disabled list, where he recovered from a strained oblique. He took a pitch, he swung at a pitch, he took a pitch, then he kept on swinging. Pierzynski had a lot of swings in there all bottled up, just waiting to get out, and at last he found his way back into game action. He had to make up for lost time.

After the streak ended, Pierzynski still swung at 11 of the next 14 pitches. But we’ll look at the streak, just. What did this look like? Below, 14 pitch .gifs, arranged in the obvious order. We begin in the bottom of the third on May 21, with Pierzynski ahead of Dan Straily 2-and-1.

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The first swing of the streak was at a ball, even though Pierzynski was ahead in the count.

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Gotta protect with two strikes.

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This was actually a pitch off the plate. But it was off the plate where these pitches tend to go for strikes against lefties, and Pierzynski obviously made solid contact. So.

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Umpire and catcher reactions. “He swung!”

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Umpire reaction. “He swung!” Umpires are easily amazed.

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It’s not just A.J. Pierzynski’s personality that can be annoying.

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Changeup, off the plate. Pierzynski had to swing with two strikes, but he didn’t have to roll over on it.

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Oh dear. An asterisk! Pierzynski checked his swing! Except he didn’t, according to the umpire, and he didn’t, also according to the instant replays. In the end, Pierzynski didn’t want to be swinging at this pitch, but at the start, he very much did, and the start usually rules the day. This goes in the books as a swing, so I’m counting it as a swing, dad gummit. Streak alive.

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The usual.

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See, but this is just stupid. Either strike out or don’t swing. This is obnoxious.

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For his career, Pierzynski has fouled off 34% of strikes. The league average has been 27%.

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Same as the pitch before, but a little higher, and a little more outside. Would’ve been called a ball, but A.J. was told from a young age he needs to protect with two strikes, and in A.J.’s mind, his castle is the entirety of the batting area. No pitches allowed to get by, with two strikes.

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A.J. Pierzynski feels about baseballs the way many people feel about A.J. Pierzynski’s face. He just wants to hit ’em. Sometimes they just shouldn’t be hit.

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The last swing of the streak, and the only swing from May 22. The first 13 all took place on May 21. In his next trip, Pierzynski took a first-pitch ball. Then there was a whiff, a foul, and a line out. If you’re curious what this all looks like, here’s PITCHf/x along with an approximated Pierzynski strike zone:

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There they are: 14 consecutive swings by A.J. Pierzynski, at 14 consecutive pitches, just about immediately upon his return from the 15-day DL. Many of the pitches were in or near the strike zone. Some of them weren’t. Pierzynski went 1-for-4 with a line-drive single. Kind of captures the essence, as if this is A.J. Pierzynski concentrate.

Maybe there’s been a longer streak, by another player. I might elect to look that up later on. This, though, is the longest streak from the game’s most aggressive player, which is worthy of its own note. You’d be right if you pointed out there’s nothing all that amazing about statistical streaks. At least, you’d be right if you pointed that out about this one. Every season, there are lots of pitches, meaning there are lots of chances for extended streaks. But, I was watching a video recently with time-lapse footage of Mount Hood. Everything around us is beautiful. Find pleasure in what we’re given.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Ian
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Ian

IIRC correctly, AJ also had a 19 pitch at bat where he fouled off like 15 balls.

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