While Buster Posey’s .424 average after the All Star break is unbelievably impressive and Joe Mauer’s return from injury oblivion will certainly warrant consideration for AL Comeback Player of the Year, the biggest story coming from behind the dish this season has to be A.J. Pierzynski’s career year. At the ripe old age of 35, the 15-year veteran is enjoying his finest season as a major leaguer and is boosting fantasy teams everywhere with some very unexpected numbers. And given his preseason ADP, there’s no question that he is providing one of the biggest return values at the catcher position.
During the spring, when the number of fantasy baseball drafts was at its peak, Pierzynski had an ADP hovering around 324 and was roughly the 18th catcher off the boards in most standard 5×5 leagues. His best seasons seemed to have come and gone between 2004 and 2006 when he averaged 15 home runs with 66 RBI and a .275 average. From 2007 on, it’s been all downhill. He’s managed to maintain a decent batting average throughout the years, but 2011 culminated with just eight home runs and 48 RBI, his lowest totals since 2002. And with this five-year decline, the White Sox have been hoping to make the transition from Pierzynski to their up-and-coming catcher of the future, Tyler Flowers, who has made a few appearances in recent seasons. It seemed as if it were finally time for a change on the South Side.
But Pierzynski had other plans this season. He would neither ride off into the sunset nor go gentle into that good night. Instead, he put together the finest season of his career and still has more than a month left to pad his stats even more. With a .294 average, 53 runs scored, 23 home runs and 67 RBI, Pierzynski has already eclipsed his career-high in home runs and is on pace to hit .292 with 77 runs scored, 31 homers and 91 RBI, all career numbers save for the average. His OBP sits at .344, second highest in any season he played more than 35 games, and he currently has a career-best .373 wOBA. Even more impressive is that he’s done all of this while maintaining close to his career averages in both walk and strikeout rate, has just a .289 BABIP, and has nothing outlandish in his batted ball data, save for a 20.7% HR/FB that some claimed was unsustainable back when the second half began.
The fact that he hasn’t regressed from his hot start this season is both impressive and an enigma. Sadly, in this day and age, most people’s first thoughts stray towards some sort of performance-enhancing supplement. But with not even a whisper of validation to that, it has to be assumed that Pierzynski is doing this au natural — perhaps making the adjustment to swing harder and get under the ball more. Whatever the case may be, he has proven to be an extremely valuable fantasy commodity this year.
Will it continue? For the month and a half, probably. Can he do it again next year? It would seem doubtful. More of like a last gasp before the end of what has been a strong career. But he is going out like a lion and while he may be one of the most hated individuals in the game, he is beloved by each and every fantasy player who got “stuck” with him on draft day.