Unlike with Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, to address the possibility of offensive struggles for A.J. Pierzynski doesn't really count as an attempt to suck out the optimism for the White Sox 2011 season. What a relief.
After submitting the flat-out worst hitting season of his career, A.J. pretty solidly removed himself from any kind of role in the offensive heavy-lifting for the team for, well...the rest of his career. We've given up on his bat, and we're ok with it.
"That's not what you have A.J. on the team for!" reply the A.J advocates.
This surprises me for two reasons. First, I'm no baseball manager, but anyone in my lineup is there to hit, darnett. Second, I really expected to hear a counterargument of "He was perfectly fine the year before, and just went through some horrible Gordon Beckham-like slumps in 2010 that aren't indicative of a breakdown persay. He'll be fine." The "Yeah, he sucks, but here's why it doesn't manner" party line really threw me for a loop.
A.J.'s final numbers for 2010 look bad, but are nowhere near as bad as they could've been without the "My career. My God! My career is ending!" rally at the end of the season. He was sitting at a .267 OBP on August 11th before his finishing kick. Even 6 days after the start of this run, he was still low enough that I wondered if this sort of hitting ineptitude meant the end of the line for him.
But, he rallied, and the White Sox brought him back. It was partly due to the rallying, but also because Tyler Flowers was a dream deferred, the best free agent catcher available can't really play catcher, and because if A.J. was a couch, he'd be one with a broken frame that makes disconcerting noises if more than two people sit on it, but he'd have a deep and well-worn ass-groove in him that would just make it too hard to throw him out.
Why he might be on the down-slide: A.J. is a candidate for regression because he already is in regression. These type of things don't stay static. Either it was a one year blip or he's going to get worse.
Being a catcher is tremendously hard and demanding, it wears physically on players and leads to some pretty short careers, which is why you find the elite hitting-backstops like Victor Martinez and Mike Piazza being farmed out to different positions in their later years. As it stands, Pierzynski has caught over 110 games for 10 years in a row, and has worked significantly higher than that rate with the White Sox. The decreased power and contact, all read as a guy breaking down after a heinously high workload.
He's not even a BABIP recovery candidate because so much of his contact was weak grounders. This doesn't look good, friends.
Why this is crazy-talk: Well, it's not crazy-talk. But maybe just declaring Pierzynski over-and-done is premature and unfair. Pierzynski's offensive year was blown to hell by two very prominent slumps. .169 with a .429 OPS to kickoff things for the first month, and .194 with a .503 OPS from June 23rd to August 11th. During this time he didn't simply look slowed down or too old, he looked incredibly and indescribably out of sorts. Horrible swings, worse-than-usual pitch selection, and some of the worst body language seen outside of 4th grade gym class.
I wouldn't dismiss aging and regression as factors, and slumps are part of every season, but A.J. was so out of form in 2010, that it doesn't seem right to dismiss his career on the basis of it.
This is part of a larger series on regression candidates for the 2011 White Sox. Here are Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, while bits on Mark Buehrle, Juan Pierre, Carlos Quentin's defense, and maybe even Jake Peavy are in the works.