At the conclusion of 2014 drafts, Steve Pearce wasn’t even an afterthought. His career to that point can be summed up in one word, mediocre. He was nothing more than a part-time player and had never accumulated more than 165 at bats in a single season since coming into the league in 2007. By the end of the season, Pearce was owned in over 50% of Yahoo leagues and over 70% of CBS and Fantrax leagues. Nobody saw this coming; probably not even Pearce himself. Should fantasy owners be buying into the breakout?
As you can tell by the title of the article, I’m not giving Pearce any credit and am writing 2014 off as a career year and nothing more. Pearce holds a career batting average of .255. Against right-handed pitchers, that average stands at .240. That is somewhat inflated by last year .279 mark against them last season; prior to 2014, that average was .218. He hits better against lefties with a .280 career mark. Prior to the 2014 season his average against lefties was .266. Even if we don’t discount last year’s numbers, a .240 average against righties makes him a platoon player. So how did a career .255 hitter manage to hit .293?
It wasn’t BABIP driven. Pearce has a .322 BABIP which was a little high but not terribly inflated. He holds a career mark of .295 and posted a .300 in 2013 so it’s not like he’s never seen this neighborhood before.
His walk percentage from 2014 (10.4%) is close to his career mark of 9.8% and his strike out percentage (19.8%) was also in line with his career mark of 20%. Nothing changed here so his contact must have improved, right? Nope. Pearce’s contact rate in 2014 was 76.3, just a decimal point off his career 76.4%. His contact was down on balls thrown outside the strike zone which would play well with his average, but a 60.6% O-Contact vs. a career 57.6% isn’t a game changer.
Maybe it was the pitch selection, so were pitchers throw him differently? Not really. 51.3% of the pitches he saw were fastballs, slightly lower than 2013 but close to his career mark of 53.1%. He only saw changeups 10% of the time; that is lower than the 17.5% in 2013 but just like fastballs, right on par with the career 11.2% he’s used to seeing. Sliders were thrown to him 19.8% of the time; that’s almost double the 10.3% he saw in 2013 but very close to the 17.7% over his career. It’s the same story with the curveball and cutter, there wasn’t much change in the number of times he’s seen these pitches compared to previous years.
Looking at Pearce’s batted ball profile, he holds a career FB% of 43.5 so the 45.6% last year wasn’t much of a change. The 35% groundball percentage was the lowest of his career. In fact, that has been on a steady decline since 2010 when he posted a 44% groundball percentage but it is only slightly lower than his career 38.4%. As for line drives, Pearce posted a 19.4% rate in 2014, slightly higher than his career average of 18.1% and 2% higher than it was from 2012 to 2013. Still, a few percent here and there should not account for the drastic rise in batting average.
The home runs can be explained as there was a major spike in Pearce’s HR/FB ratio. After posting 10% or lower in each season, that number ballooned up to 17.5%. His average flyball distance was 286.63 feet, putting him in the same company as Carlos Gomez, Bryce Harper and Adrian Gonzalez. None of them had a HR/FB% that good and this is the main contributor to his success. Of Pearce’s 21 home runs, 5 were classified as just enough and 2 as lucky by ESPN’s home run tracker. Turn those 7 home runs into fly outs and that .293 average dips down to a human .272.
Even if you don’t take away those home runs, there is the fact that all but one of them were to the left field corner. You can almost guarantee that pitchers and catchers will notice this and pitch around that sweet spot next year taking away some of those long singles over the wall.
So there you have it. What did Steve Pearce do differently in 2014? He hit balls over the wall at an unsustainable rate. That’s it. That is the only thing that changed. I’m sure those of you who extrapolated his numbers over a full season were getting excited, but curb your enthusiasm. There is a reason why Pearce only had 689 at bats prior to the 2014 season. There is a reason this soon to be 32-year-old was a bench/platoon player for his career.
Pearce had a career year in 2014, nothing more. You can say that maybe he is just a late bloomer and figured things out, but I’m a believer in the Occam’s razor theory. So I’ll ask you, which of these is a more believable explanation?
- Pearce figured things out late in life and can repeat the season he produced in 2014.
- Pearce had a career year like most major league players do and will revert back to his career numbers.
Pearce hasn’t done anything in his career to suggest he isn’t just a one year wonder. He doesn’t deserve to be moved up draft boards and he doesn’t warrant any extra value in dynasty or keeper leagues. He had a good year, and those that were lucky enough to grab him off waivers and take advantage of that streak should be happy with what they got. For 2015, let someone else make the mistake of paying for his breakout. He may get you some home runs and might even give you a streak of good numbers, but he’s only a part-time player with a bad track record and not worth the risk. I Guarantee there will be another Steve Pearce waiting on waivers in May for you to grab. Like the title says, Don’t Believe the Hype!