Can the Amazing Pierzynski Do it Again?

Among the many surprises we witnessed during the 2012 season, the ridiculous year that A.J. Pierzynski had is probably one of the biggest. Based on the decline in his overall numbers over the last several years, a season in which he posted career-best totals in nearly every offensive category (including nose hair), after being a relative afterthought on draft day had fantasy owners completely baffled. Appreciative, yes, but baffled nonetheless. And now that he’s signed on to play for the Texas Rangers in 2013, the big question on everyone’s mind is whether or not he can do it again.

To expect a repeat performance at this stage of his career seems a bit silly. A dozen seasons of hitting no more than 18 home runs in any given year coupled with a steady decline in power since 2006 makes those 27 home runs he hit last season seem like a fluke. When asked late in the year about his complete turnaround, Pierzynski credited former White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker with changing his approach back in the summer of 2011. While there didn’t seem to be much change in him that summer, a broken wrist in August would have stymied any progress he would have made with a mechanics change. However, the natural skeptic in me still has a hard time seeing a simple tweak of mechanics resulting in such a massive change, especially after suffering a broken wrist which, as we all know, makes it a lot more difficult for power hitters to regain their power.

A few weeks ago, our own Chris Cwik took a look at Pierzynski’s numbers to try and find the source of his astounding comeback and in what way Walker’s advice to him helped create such a massive overhaul. He looked at an unusually high HR/FB rate, a reduction in ground balls hit, average speed and distance of the ball off the bat, “just enough” home runs and the fact that Pierzynski actually showed more than just straight-pull power, hitting seven of his home runs to center. But when all was said and done, the results of his analysis were pretty much the same as mine — nearly all of it seemed to be a fluke.

That brings us to that awful thought that we all know that everyone is thinking, but like saying MacBeth in a theater on opening night or whispering Voldermort to your more nerdly Harry Potter aficionados, no one wants to say it. I know there are no studies that actually prove that PEDs really do improve your skills at the plate, but in the wake of the whole Melky Cabrera fiasco, a performance I was extremely skeptical and vocal about, you can’t help but think the same thing here. A guy who turns 36 in four days and plays the most taxing position in baseball suddenly triples his power output less than a year after breaking his wrist? Seems rather suspect to me. I certainly don’t want to falsely accuse, but after scouring through his career numbers and coming up empty with a valid explanation, I have little choice but to question it.

For fantasy purposes, despite the dimensions in Arlington and the surrounding lineup which, even without Josh Hamilton, still looks pretty formidable, I am steering clear from Pierzynski this season. First off, his 2012 numbers, whether you believe in them or not, are going to raise his price tag far above what it should be. The best part of his performance last year was that you probably didn’t pay more than a buck for his services in an auction or use a pick higher than the 20th round in a snake draft. Secondly, if he is on the up and up here, then you can’t help but feel a regression coming on. Twenty home runs, to me, still seems like a longshot here. And third, if he isn’t on the up and up and something does come to light, then you’re looking at a major suspension and you’ll be forced to the waiver wire looking for help at a still relatively thin position. How many Melky owners are still cursing him for having to replace those numbers in the second half?

So do yourself a favor and invest elsewhere. There’s definitely an end to this story and no matter which adventure you choose, it looks like the Amazing Pierzynski’s big 2012 season is about to go poof.



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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site,, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at

19 Responses to “Can the Amazing Pierzynski Do it Again?”

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  1. K says:

    So the point of this article is, his value lies in for how long he will successfully avoid being suspended for testing positive on a drug test?
    This article seems to just be a really worded version of the above question.
    I feel like his value will lie exactly in what you said – the difference between his drafting position and his production for the upcoming season.
    Will his drafting position really be that high? Are people really going to be that ignorant that they can’t think of the same reasons that you came up with for his decline? There is a very good chance that his drafting position would not be high at all. Of course, this is a prediction and we will have to see how the mock drafts go.
    Now, if he is actually using performance enhancing drugs and continues to do so, will his production level really regress that much to the point that he’s useless in terms of fantasy baseball?
    If he is not, then how legitimate is his improvement, and how much of it will he retain? This could have been discussed in much more detail and turned this article into a much more useful piece for the readers.

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  2. DrBGiantsfan says:

    Willie Mays had the highest HR total of his career in 1965 at age 34 a full 10 years after his second highest HR total. Willie McCovey had a spike in HR’s at age 39 in 1977. There are many other examples. Those are just the two that immediately come to mind.

    It is extremely unfair to players to make unfounded speculations about PED use based on a one season spike in production. It happens.

    I don’t think you need a detailed statistical analysis to figure out that a season like that is unlikely to be repeated.

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    • el duderino says:

      You don’t need to cite Willie Mays HR totals as evidence in favor of AJ. If you’re reading Rotographs in Decemeber, you understand that outliers happen. It’s enough just to say that.

      However, my question to you is: have you heard of Occam’s Razor?

      We see, again and again, that the athlete with the impetus to gain an advantage will do a better job of attaining that advantage than the regulators will at stopping him or her from doing so. Athletes have enormous financial incentives to improve performance, perhaps especially so when their skills have plateaued and begun to erode. This is why, even if it’s unfair, athletes who experience statistically significant performance upticks are justly questioned for the purposes of fantasy projection.

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  3. sgtjunior says:

    Willie Mays averaged 39 home runs a year (after his time in the military) with 40, 49, 38 and 47 in the years leading up to his big year in ’65 (total of 11 years). Prior to this years bump, AJ averaged 11.4 over his last 11 years. A jump to 27 for a catcher is much more suspect difference.

    And I never thought I would ever compare AJ Pierzynski to Willie Mays.

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  4. Bob says:

    What if I still have AJ for a dollar in a keeper league? should I be happy or should I be shopping for other one dollar catchers?

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  5. Tim says:

    I find it hard to believe that AJ would start doing PEDs at this point. He’s a smart guy who’s pushing hard into a broadcasting career, and risking all that for a few extra home runs doesn’t really make any sense. I think it’s much more likely to be a garden-variety fluke.

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  6. Cliff says:

    Is there any chance he just “ran into” a lot of pitches this year?

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  7. bigfun says:

    Fangraphs has always been really good about avoiding arguments like “I’m just saying what everyone is thinking” or acknowledging there’s no proof and proceeding with the argument anyway, or presenting what amounts to an accusation as a mere question raised.

    As other commenters note above, it’s more reasonable to regard this as the sort of single-season outlier that has happened throughout baseball history. If some evidence of wrongdoing emerges, by all means. But otherwise, this is the kind of lazy thinking this site usually debunks, not indulges in.

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    • el duderino says:

      An example of “lazy” thinking would be to ignore the past 30 years of athletic contests and come to a conclusion other than there aren’t massive and real incentives for most any athlete in most any sport to try to attain every possible advantage to improve their performance.

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    • Stan Gable says:

      ‘Fangraphs has always been really good about avoiding arguments like “I’m just saying what everyone is thinking..’

      Is this sarcastic?

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  8. Howard Bender says:

    I don’t normally post comments like this, but sometimes you all crack me up. Last offseason I did an article on why I wouldn’t draft Melky Cabrera and gave a complete statistical analysis of how and why Melky’s numbers A. came from out of nowhere and B. were unsustainable. I crept right up to the line of “he must be on something” but opted not to cross it and was lambasted in the comments section about things like career trajectory and diet and workouts. When he ripped through the first half, I received additional comments and numerous private emails about how wrong I was and when he was ultimately suspended…crickets.

    Now I turn around and say that according to the numbers, I don’t see Pierzynski’s 2012 totals being sustainable and actually make the comment about PEDs and now I’m being raked over again for making a false acccusation. It’s a lose-lose situation sometimes.

    Ah the internet. So fickle are the readers.


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    • Will H. says:

      I didn’t read your Melky piece, but I would have been with you in terms of very, very suspect thoughts because I was a Yanks fan during his time there and he was TERRIBLE, consistently so, and just watching him he had all the time in the world to show hope of more power and it never came… until the last couple of years.

      I have never watched A.J. but looking at his timeline, I mean, c’mon, there is again very much reason to suspect. HRs went something like 14-13-13-9-8… and then 27, with that 14 being a previous career high at a much more normal peak age and with far fewer catching innings on his body. Sure, it could be just a fluke and he’ll regress to something like the 8 homers one would have expected given his 2010-2011 seasons and advancing ave, but I’m already seeing projections of 15 homers suggesting this is somehow a legit performance that needs to be factored in. No way… either he regresses badly or starts out just as strong and then gets a 50-game suspension. Well, anything can happen, but Bender and myself and others can suggest reason for extreme suspicion without being unfair.

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  9. Jerry says:

    Howard Bender wrote a pretty accurate article about Melky last year, but, considering that that was his first worthwhile article in years, you have to question from whence his insight arose. I guess I’ll just say what everyone is thinking: Bender is plagiarizing.

    I know there is no evidence of this, and I won’t bother to do any research about other comparable writers that had sudden unexpected bursts of insight, because, whatever, it’s the easy explanation.

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  10. Jerry says:

    Terry Steinbach hit 35 HR in ’96 at age 34 after never hitting more than 15 before and topping out at 14 afterwards.

    Carlton Fisk hit 37 HR in ’85 at age 37 after never hitting more than 26 before and topping out at 23 afterwards.

    In other words: you don’t need to resort to unfounded PED accusations to argue that Pierzynski’s season is an unrepeatable fluke.

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  11. Buck Turgidson says:

    Ass Jack would be a great replacement for Hawk. Lol

    The question is how will Flowers do in the full time roll? From a fantasy perspective I love any halfway decent regular playing half their games in that bandbox.

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  12. Bab says:

    Well, when in 10 years you suddenly write a few good articles after your wit and poignancy has steadily declined, I’ll assume you either took illegal correspondence courses or had a black market mind transplant. No way you could have written those.

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