Baseball hasn't always been this good to Steve Pearce. From 2007 to 2012, the former 8th round pick produced a .234/.309/.369 batting line for an 82 wRC+ and -0.6 fWAR. Pearce spent time with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees and Houston Astros before latching on with the Baltimore Orioles. He gave the O's a nice spark in limited playing time in 2013, hitting .261/.362/.420 for a 115 wRC+ and 0.8 fWAR in just 138 plate appearances.
This year however, Pearce has soared. Over 189 plate appearances the 31 year-old outfielder is ripping the baseball to the tune of a .326/.381/.581 batting line which comes out to a 165 wRC+. His 2.3 fWAR is on the same level as teammate Nelson Cruz, who, along with Jose Abreu, leads the major leagues with 27 home runs. Among hitters with at least 180 plate appearances, Pearce is tied for 7th in wRC+ (Devin Mesoraco is first).
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Pearce has a nice track record of success in the minor leagues. Over more than 2600 career minor league plate appearances, he owns a .294/.371/.522 batting line with strikeout and walk rates of 15.4 percent and 9.8 percent, respectively. As a 24-year-old in 2007 he mashed out a .333/.394/.622 season with 31 home runs. Going into 2008 he was ranked as the No. 43 overall prospect by Baseball Prospectus and the No. 89 prospect by Baseball America.
Up until last year, Pearce was plagued with injuries and he struggled in his limited opportunities. At the age of 31, it's fairly safe to say that he hasn't improved this season so much as things have finally fallen in place with regards to health and playing time. At the risk of being too much of a downer, it's doubtful that he's this good of a hitter. Here's a series of tweets by MGL that is applicable to what Pearce is doing.
If a player hits .320 for 3 years and then .340 for the next 3 years, did he "get better?"— Mitchel Lichtman (@mitchellichtman) July 2, 2014
If "get better" means true talent improves, not necessarily.— Mitchel Lichtman (@mitchellichtman) July 2, 2014
3 things might have occurred or any combination thereof.— Mitchel Lichtman (@mitchellichtman) July 2, 2014
1) the first 3 years player was unlucky. 2) second 2 years player was lucky. 3) true talent improved.— Mitchel Lichtman (@mitchellichtman) July 2, 2014
That seems about right. Pearce was a better player than he showed in his limited major league opportunities between 2007-12. Maybe he's actually improved a little bit. Pearce won't continue to produce at this rate. In the alternative, it's very unlikely that he will continue to produce at this rate. However, his updated projection is quite favorable. ZiPS forecasts a .276/.352/.474 batting line which is a 128 wRC+. As a comparison, ZiPS projects a .250/.335/.505 batting line for teammate Chris Davis, which is a 127 wRC+. What Pearce has done isn't on the same scale as Davis' breakout 2013 season, but it is remarkable nonetheless.
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Stats courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference
Chris Moran is a former college baseball player and current law student at Washington University in St. Louis. He's also an assistant baseball coach at Wash U. In addition to Beyond The Box Score, he contributes at Prospect Insider and Gammons Daily. He went to his first baseball game at age two. Follow him on Twitter @hangingslurves