Saturday, August 4, 2012
'AJP' stands for A.J. Power
By Christina Kahrl
Having already hit his 19th shot of the season on Friday, A.J. Pierzynski's adding his 20th against the Angels on Saturday probably shouldn't be that much of a surprise -- he “just” raised his career high for homers another notch. But that’s his fourth consecutive game with a home run, so if you thought the regression fairy was supposed to come down on him like a ton of bricks in the second half after a near-miss for an All-Star Game invitation, guess again.
It's just the latest in a litany of happy stats where he's concerned. Pierzynski is also setting a career high in Isolated Power (ISO) this season, more than 80 points better than his previous best mark back in 2005, his first year with the White Sox. He’s also setting a career high in his ratio of home runs to fly balls, well above 15 percent this season, against a previous high of 9.4 percent (in 2005) and a career rate of 6.2 percent. All of those numbers are “supposed” to regress, to go down. Except that they haven’t, and at this point they’re numbers that have spun off in their own orbit, set loose from the purported magnet of his career norms.
Naturally, if you want to rant about regression and the inevitability of all this Pierzynski-related fun coming to an end, feel free. Like predicting death or taxes, you'll be right -- in time. But now that we’re headed into the season’s final third, there comes a point where you just have to salute a 35-year-old veteran having the best season of his career, especially when nobody expected or projected it. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA both had him at 11 home runs for the season, while the Bill James Handbook grimly forecast just nine for him. And none of those seemed particularly gloomy or uncharacteristic for a guy who'd hit nine in 2010 and eight in 2011.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I think setting all of those expectations on their collective head is fun to see unfold. Fun not because you have to have a rooting interest, but fun in the way that baseball is reliably fun, showing you things you don’t expect. It’s fun to see what a player is doing challenge the collected wisdom of the analysis community, not because it negates the usefulness of forecasts or the wisdom of leading analysts, but because there’s a chance that we can learn something about the limits of that analysis. That’s beyond just enjoying the genuine surprises the game rewards fans with, however serious or less so their interest. Quite simply, you don’t have to be a White Sox fan or even a (perhaps rare) A.J. Pierzynski fan to enjoy seeing him break out the thunderstick we never knew he had in him.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.