White Sox player wrap-ups - A.J. Pierzynski

White Sox player wrap-ups - A.J. Pierzynski

At some point, being this divisive has to be considered a talent.  A.J. doesn't just inspire the loyalty of his teammates while pushing opponents to the brink of assault & battery, he divides baseball fans along lines of statheads and suckers for intangibles, and White Sox fans between those who value keeping the championship core together and the dissatisfied bunch that points to only one playoff appearance in the past five seasons, and call for a new direction.

In these turbulent times, where politics of the nation are as divided as ever, and there's a menagerie of opinions of how to pull the country out of the economic crisis, is not A.J. Pierzynski--starting debates over whether the Sox should rely on grizzled veterans or young prospects, or whether baseball players should be dazzling athletes or lovable drunken goofballs, an immovable rogue struggling through a down period that no one is sure what to do with--the most American baseball player in the game today?

Isn't he?

Stat line: .270 BA, .300 OBP, .388 SLG, .688 OPS, 43 R, 29 2B, 9 HR, 56 RBI, 15 BB, 39 SO, 3 SB (42%), .299 wOBA, FanGraphs' Generic Substitute for UZR with Catchers - 2.0, 1.8 WAR

What did we expect?: A.J. had a pretty good offensive year for himself in 2009, staying in the top-10 of the A.L. batting race until a late-season swoon, and spraying flares across the outfield without much pop on them like a chunky, white Juan Pierre, with no discernible signs of slowing down.  I admit that a Pierzynski-centered puff piece on ESPN late in 2009 prompted a "Am I undervaluing A.J.??" crisis of conscience that failed to factor in things like "ESPN is a 24-hour network with oodles of broadcast time that they have find some way to fill everyday."


Yes, it was this puff piece, and no, I don't know what I was smoking.

"The short-comings are obvious; warning-track power,
allergic to RBIs the past two seasons, swings at everything, will never
have an OBP over .345 ever in life, fat (Part of the reason I can
rationalize dropping nearly $400 on White Sox tickets is that I will
have a fair share of moments where I stare and think 'Wow, what an
athlete! It's amazing to watch him in person.' A.J. will provide none
of these moments). What he can provide consistently is good contact
hitting, a batting average that stays above .290, opportunistic
baserunning, and the impossible to prove quality that's often to
attributed to him of 'calling a good game behind the plate'. On second
thought, I don't buy that s*** for a second, he gets no credit for that.

It's easier to appreciate A.J. once you realize how much most catchers suck."

Opportunistic baserunning?  Sometimes, the early posts on this blog read like I just got finished drinking 9 High Lifes in Hawk Harrelson's backyard.  I might have been on to something with the other catchers sucking part.

A divisional breakdown of catcher situations in '10

ChiSox - Bad...but spunky?
Cleveland - A burst of greatness, surrounded by surreal levels of badness
Detroit - B-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-bad to the bone.
Kansas City - Jason Kendall
Minnesota - Not even fair, c'mon now

The result: Like most of the team, A.J. responded to the opening bell of the season by tripping and falling in the starting gate, and spending a prolonged period of time curled up in the fetal position in that same spot.  It would wind up being one of two super-awful funks that Pierzynski would stagger through in 2010, but there's a huge problem with Pierzynski's slumps.

If A.J. isn't making good contact with regularity and racking up a high average; there isn't anything else he does particularly well.  He doesn't hit for power, he can't draw a walk, he can't run well (not a stolen base threat, but certainly a double play threat), and opinions on his defense are very mixed.

His instincts are rarely questioned, but Pierzynski is pretty average at throwing out runners (26%), doesn't have the athleticism to be great at blocking pitches, and take it how you want it, but baseballanalysts.com ranks him as the worst catcher of the decade based on a formula of outs made per balls in play.


I never thought this looked graceful, but 'worst of the decade' is admittedly a surprise

In this context, A.J. "just going through a couple of slumps" becomes a lot bigger of an emergency.

Offensively, Pierzynski's season was half & half.  Half good, half super-deadly poison.  The first two months he hit a combined .564 OPS, and additionally pitched in a .552 OPS for July.  Imagine if you will, Tyler Flowers being granted the starter spot in 2011, and starting things off with .564 OPS in the first two months?

Get rid of him!  Ramon Castro time!  Anything else, right?  There's a reason veterans get longer ropes, but that doesn't change the fact that A.J. played at a level where a newer player trying to stick would have gotten any evidence that he was ever with the organization erased.

Pierzynski posted a combined OPS for June, and August & September in the .810's, which dragged his batting average up to .270; good enough to convince traditionalists that he had a pretty good season.  .270 can be good, if you're a power hitter (he's not), you draw enough walks that your OBP is really good (he doesn't), or you're an elite defender (he does not appear to be).

Love him or leave him?: There's a chance, that Pierzynski could be headed for a slight, slight, recovery.  His walk rate was a little lower than usual (though with his approach, who's to say it should ever recover?), and there's no reason to think his BABIP will get better seeing as he already hits boatloads of grounders.  But his line-drive rate was a career-low (maybe he can walk into a few more?), and his HR/fly ball percentage was preposterously lower than usual, so he should probably be able to pull it together and return to hitting 12-15 HRs...so yeah....get excited about that. 

But he's also turning 34 in a month and has caught a ton of innings.  Ramon Castro has never played 100 games in a season, is even older, and his defense can't be any better (it's probably a lot worse).  Tyler Flowers has also done pretty much nothing to suggest he's ready for the big-time.  Perhaps a platoon of those two could develop Flowers while not wearing out Castro, but it's pretty much a given that if the White Sox slap together the catcher position with what they've currently got under contract, it'll be a trying year, even if it's for the best for the organization in the long-term.


Bringing back Olivo would be uh...uh....it'd be interesting

However, bringing back an aging A.J. Pierzynski to contribute a season not much different than his bad 2010, is pretty darn uninspired.  When you finish in 2nd place, re-upping the weaker contributors on the team and hoping things are different doesn't set the South Side on fire with White Sox fever.

Now that Vic is gone (and he was pretty expensive, old, and defensively challenged anyway), the free agent catcher options are pretty much a smattering of Miracle Whip Lite on a stale slice of white bread.  John Buck is also gone after a power-hitting year, and the youngest options are Miguel Olivo and Yorvit Torrealba, who are both 32.  Gerald Laird is 31, but he's terrible.  The Sox have expressed interest in bringing back Olivo who is coming off his best offensive year, but Miguel also led the league in passed balls.

I like the Flowers-Castro platoon best, but in this situation, there are really no right answers.  I can't imagine anyone in their right mind would trade a good catcher in this market.

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