The year Pierzynski turned into a slugger

January 16th, 2022

CHICAGO – The statistics for A.J. Pierzynski’s 2012 season with the White Sox highlight that campaign as the best of his stellar 19-year Major League career.

Pierzynski, who is making a first-time appearance on the current Hall of Fame ballot, understands such logic. The left-handed hitter finished with a slash line of .278/.326/.501 to go with a career-high 27 home runs and a career-high 120 OPS+.

Winning always was first and foremost for the durable catcher, making his first of eight years with the White Sox in ’05, when the team captured the World Series title, truly his No. 1 effort. But the White Sox push to contention in ’12, after a tumultuous close to the previous campaign for the team, is just as important to Pierzynski in the overall analysis.

“That was what made it fun,” Pierzynski told during a recent phone interview. “Listen, I always wanted to win first and do anything to try to win the game. It was nice to be in the middle of it. We had a bunch of guys who had good years, bounce-back years especially from the year before.

“It was nice to see what we did as a team. Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish it off and get to the playoffs.”

That ’12 season marked Robin Ventura’s first as White Sox manager, with his team leading the American League Central for 117 days before falling out of the playoffs during the last two weeks. And as Pierzynski pointed out, he was right in the middle of the 85-win success.

A power increase was the most noticeable difference for Pierzynski, who launched 188 career home runs over 2,059 games and 7,815 plate appearances. His career-best aside from ’12 was 18 homers during the ’05 season, but Pierzynski also reached double-digits in long balls during nine separate seasons.

There still was something different in ’12 for the career .280 hitter. Those differences took root in a fractured left wrist suffered in August ’11, putting Pierzynski on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

“I came back like after two weeks. Played the last month basically with one hand, especially offensively, and I remember I was hitting, and I was like ‘How can I get this done?’” Pierzynski said. “It made me take my left hand, which was the broken wrist hand, out of my swing.

“Then I went into the offseason and I kind of had a good feeling in that offseason hitting wise, and it kind of carried over into Spring Training. I found something in spring and I still can’t even really tell you what it was. But it was like ‘Ok, that’s going to work.’ It just seemed like every ball I hit that year for a while there, was just going out of the park. It was really fun.”

Making contact and hitting line drives around the field was a trademark of Pierzynski’s game since he arrived with the Twins in the Majors full time in 2001, posting 2,043 career hits against a total of 895 strikeouts. Pierzynski didn’t worry about the low strikeout total in his power-packed ’12 performance, as he fanned a career-high 78 times.

Meanwhile, Pierzynski was getting the ball out front more with his swing, something he did with Texas again in 2013, leading to 17 home runs.

“For about 24 months there, I figured out how to kind of do the opposite, which was fun,” Pierzynski said. “It was different, right? Torii Hunter used to always make fun of me because I could hit home runs in batting practice, but in the game, I didn’t really hit a lot.

“He was like, ‘If you could hit these out in the game, it would be pretty fun.’ It just happened. I hooked a lot of balls out front. For those two years, I kind of figured it out.”

Pierzynski homered in five straight games from July 30 to Aug. 5 and finished with 77 RBIs. He hit these lofty 2012 numbers at age 35, playing until '16 before retiring.

“Everyone was saying I was done,” said Pierzynski on the personal meaning of ’12. “Honestly, I kind of at the end of that year (’11), I was like I’ve done this for parts of 15 seasons or 16, whatever it was. I was like, maybe if this is it ….

“You go out and have a year like that and it kind of reinvigorates you and you are like, ‘I can still do this.’ It re-energizes you as a player. I know I’m a little bit older, but I’m doing my part and I can still do this. Selfishly, it’s a little bit gratifying.”