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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.