A.J. Pierzynski is hurting the White Sox

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Nuccio DiNonza, Chicago Tribune

Diatribes against individual players after a night of drinking and watching them struggle in the cold is a recipe for retractions, so let's stick to the cold hard stats.

With metrics not factoring in A.J.'s two rollicking singles on Monday night, the bleached backstop has racked up a -0.1 fWAR and a -0.3 bWAR for the season. 

Plenty of this is the result of his offense.  As a player notably bankrupt in plate patience and power, A.J. really needs to hit in the neighborhood of .300 to justify his continuing appearance in the batting order.  Instead, he's batting .246. which is nowhere near enough to shake Pierzynski from the pace for his 8th consecutive year as a below-average hitter in terms of wRC+.

Still, A.J. isn't around for his putrid offense (we have others for that) He's around because Tyler Flowers botched the golden opportunity for promotion that most lasting careers are based on, the free agent catching market consisted of John Buck being overpaid and Victor Martinez being paid to DH, and because it's really hard to find someone capable of playing competently behind the plate....let alone on a regular basis.

And that's where Pierzynski has really reneged on the deal.

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3 passed balls so far in 2011 is nothing to register a gripe about, but 15 wild pitches a quarter-way through the season is on pace to set a career-high for A.J.  Unless you believe this is really the the nastiest Sox pitching staff of the last 7 years, this can't be viewed as a particularly good sign for Pierzynski behind the plate.

The damning failure lies in Pierzynski's arm.  Even 2008's low water mark of 18% baserunners thrown out doesn't approach the 11.4% rate A.J. is currently sporting, and Monday night's game against the Rangers demonstrated the hopelessness.  Like the rest of the league, Texas knew to run on A.J. at will.

The Rangers went 3 for 3 on the basepaths with Endy Chavez taking a base, Craig Gentry snagging a base, and even 34 year-old Michael Young getting in on the act.  All of Pierzynski's throws one-hopped their way to Alexei Ramirez, who only occasionally acknowledges the inanity of trying to tag a player already safe at 2nd and halfway through the process of cleaning his uniform. 

It's be one thing for A.J. to be 11% effective at throwing out baserunners, it's quite another for a league-wide memo to be out for opposing teams to absolutely run without conscience until they're made to stop.  With 31 stolen bases allowed, A.J. is once again set to record a career-high, but the pace figures to pick up as 'wild success' becomes the regular return of challenging him.  The league is willing to punish the White Sox for starting Pierzynski for as long as they're willing to do it.

We can blame the starters for not holding runners, and blame Alexei Ramirez for catching short-armed throws in front of the base.  But at worst these players are a slight hindrance in a small compartment of their responsibilities while providing surplus value otherwise.

For Pierzynski, it's the case of a below-average hitter who can't defend the position that justified his presence anymore.  He's a sub-replacement level veteran with little projection for improvement.  Other than not wanting to admit a mistake, I don't see what the hang-up is in not exploring other options more throroughly.

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  • It's ridiculous how this team ignores facts. AJ and Juan Pierre have been killing this team all year. And this isn't a surprise as they were not productive last year. We need guys who are good at baseball and if AJ isn't hitting or throwing anyone out, I don't care what kind of game he calls or what kind of fire he brings. Same goes with JP. If he's not getting on base and stealing bases, what good is he? Be more than a hard worker. Be good at baseball. This team focuses more on intangibles than (I'm assuming, since I don't watch full seasons of other teams) more than any team out there.

    It's sad to say, but Ozzie is really doing an abysmal job managing this year. Yes the players stink, but it's the managers job to get what you can out of the guys you have. Not to just blindly abide with what should work. If managing is that easy, anyone could do it. Shake things up Ozzie. If not, KW should.

  • In reply to PawsOut:

    I understand that they're almost out of options on the catching front, but at this point, I could be convinced that Flowers would be an improvement. Not because he's better behind the plate, but because the lack of extensive scouting reports on him might switch the opposition's game plan from "Steal at will" for a while.

    More starts for Castro, more pitchouts, something. Poor guy is getting mutilated out there. I know calling for change with no backup plan is pointless, but when a guy is sub-replacement, in theory any backup plan is better. Get Greg Zaun out of retirement!

  • In reply to jfegan:

    There are some Twins fans who'd disagree with you that the Sox have a monopoly on this, but Jim Margalus summed it up well when he said that Pierre was an example of how the Sox will sometimes value the method over the result.

    They love Pierre bunting and reaching on an error, stealing second, being bunted over to 3rd, and scoring on a groundout more than a Jim Thome solo HR, no matter which one is more repeatable.

  • In reply to jfegan:

    Yeah that's a pretty excellent way to put it.

  • In reply to jfegan:

    And maybe Flowers could catch fire for a while at the plate before the league adjusts. It has to be better than a guaranteed ground out to second. AJ has become Darren Erstad in a matter of 2 years.

    It just feels like the White Sox put themselves into a position where they have no flexibility. Even if you wanted to give Castro more ABs, or call up Flowers, there's no way they could without essentially releasing AJ. He'd basically take a flamethrower to the clubhouse if they did either.

    Same goes with Pierre. They pay him what they pay him and had no interest in exploring other leadoff options in the offseason. He's their guy no matter what. Even though even when he's good, he's bad.

    Same goes for Pena, (Why they offered him arbitration is beyond me) Morel, and Beckham. No backup plans. Maybe that's what all in really means?

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