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Sunday, December 23, 2012
Notable moves: Pierzynski, Jackson, Vargas

By ESPN Stats & Information


Throughout the offseason, we'll feature regular in-depth reviews of MLB moves. This week's piece looks at A.J. Pierzynski, Edwin Jackson, and Jason Vargas.

Rangers agree to terms with Pierzynski
The Rangers will hope to replace some of the power they lost from the departure of Josh Hamilton and (likely) Mike Napoli with free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski, whose 27 home runs at age 35 were nine more than his previous career-high of 18, set in 2005.

Pierzynski took a much different approach against pitches in the strike zone in 2012 than he had the previous few seasons and one of the payoffs was a significant increase in power.

In 2010 and 2011, when Pierzynski made contact with a pitch in the zone, he hit it in the air a little more than half the time. In 2012, he hit more than two-thirds of those pitches in the air.

Pierzynski was able to punish pitchers' mistakes in a big way. He had a .939 slugging percentage and seven home runs against pitches thrown to the middle-third of the strike zone, both height-wise and width-wise.

That was better than double his .454/two-homer output of the previous two seasons.

Pierzynski’s increased focus on driving ball had both positive and negative results. His home-run total was 10 more than his 2010 and 2011 totals combined. But his strikeout tally (78) was also higher than his combined 2010/2011 total (72).

Are the positive results from this change in approach repeatable?

The good news for Pierzynski is that he’s staying in a homer-friendly environment. Our Hittrackeronline.com ballpark overlays show that every one of the 18 homers he hit at home last season would have also left Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

However, history is not kind to 36-year-old (and older) catchers. The only ones to hit at least 20 homers in a season are Carlton Fisk, Jorge Posada and Mike Piazza.

One other nugget on Pierzynski: He'll remind Rangers fans of Hamilton in one respect-- they both like to swing at pitches out of the strike zone, as noted in the chart above.
-- Mark Simon

Cubs sign Edwin Jackson
After posting a sub-3.00 ERA in his first 14 starts last year, Edwin Jackson struggled the remainder of the 2012 season with a 5.24 ERA and 15 homers allowed in his final 19 games (including the playoffs).

But that didn't deter the Cubs from giving him a four-year deal.

What was the cause of Jackson's struggles?

His slide began in a loss to the Rockies on June 28 when he surrendered eight runs in three innings. Before that start, he had allowed four-runs-or-more in only two outings. Including June 28 through the rest of the season, he allowed at least four runs eight times.

Over the last three-plus months he did not have the same success locating his fastball at the letters or above that he had in his first 14 starts of the season.

Beginning with that June 28 start, he threw 235 high fastballs, resulting in more total bases allowed (29) than outs (25).

During the first three months, opponents hit .226 in at-bats ending in those pitches. This included a four-start stretch in May during which he allowed just two singles and got 23 outs via the 81 fastballs he threw up in the zone.

Despite the issues with his heater over the final few months, Jackson’s slider remained nearly unhittable the entire season. During the regular season, he had the highest slider miss rate (49 percent) of any qualifying pitcher and his 109 strikeouts via his slider were the most in the NL.

Angels trade for Jason Vargas
Over the past three seasons, Jason Vargas has quietly developed into a reliable starter.

Vargas has shown improvements in each of the past three years. Each season has seen an increase in innings pitched, up to a career high 217 1/3 last year.

What has been the key to Vargas' success?

Vargas owns an effective changeup to neutralize righty hitters. No lefty relied more on his changeup against righties last season than Vargas. And he used it to great effect, holding righties to a .174 average in at-bats ending with the change, the lowest among all lefty starters in 2012.

His strikeout rate increased from 14 percent of batters faced in 2010 to 16 percent last season. A career-best 1.18 WHIP last year was driven by the increased strikeouts as well as a career-low walk rate.
--Will Cohen