Former Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was unusually effective in 2012
BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI For Sun-Times Media March 11, 2013 10:05PM
27The number of homers former White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski hit last season, a career high.
Updated: April 13, 2013 6:27AM
For the first time since 2004, the White Sox are in
training camp without catcher A.J. Pierzynski. And while we’ll have to get used to
seeing him in a Rangers uniform, his final Sox season merits one more by-the-numbers look.
It was a terrific season and an odd one for a catcher at age 34. His .501 slugging percentage and .827 OPS were career highs, and it was his second-best season in terms of offensive wins above replacement (his 3.3 oWAR trailed only his 3.7 in 2003 for the Twins).
But it’s in home runs that Pierzynski’s 2012 season really stands out. His 27 homers, which boosted his career total to 155, were a couldn’t-see-it-coming, whole new level of power. He’d had seven seasons in double figures, but his career high had been 18, and his 2010-11 totals were nine and eight.
How unusual was it? I used the search function at baseball-reference.com to find everyone who had played at least 50 percent of his games at catcher and hit at least 150 homers. Career highs cluster by age about as you’d expect, with eight players setting or tying career highs at age 27 and eight at age 31. Only four set or tied career highs before age 26 and only eight after age 31 (Mickey Tettleton counts twice in that group, having hit 32 at ages 31, 32 and 34).
There are 36 catchers who have hit 150 or more homers. Of those, only Pierzynski and four others had just one 20-homer season. Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi had 20 for the Reds in 1939 at 31; Darrell Porter had 20 for the Royals in 1979 at 27; Benito Santiago had 30 for the Phillies in 1996 at 31; and Terry Steinbach had 35 for the A’s in 1996 at 34.
Steinbach leaps out because his second-highest total was only 16 at age 25. He also figures in another group: the seven catchers with 150 or more homers who had their career high at age 34 or later. That group also features Pierzynski, Carlton Fisk (37 for the Sox at age 37), Mike Stanley (29 for the Blue Jays and Red Sox at 35, by which time he no longer was catching), Sherm Lollar (22 for the Sox at 34), Elston Howard (28 for the Yankees at 34) and Tettleton (32 for the Rangers at 34 tied his totals for the Tigers at 31 and 32).
If we combine the lists to make one tightly defined group of those with 150 or more homers, at least 50 percent of their games at catcher, only one season of 20 or more homers and a career high at age 34 or later, there are only two names: Pierzynski and Steinbach.
They also are the only catchers on the 150-plus list to have their first 20-homer season at age 34 or later. No catcher as old as Pierzynski when hitting 20 for the first time has had a second 20-homer season. That gives him a chance to move from unusual