The frustrating thing about trying to evaluate A.J. Pierzynski is reviewing his statistical profile, finding a decent but underwhelming player, and being met with the inevitable reply of "Yeah, but the intangibles". It's a valid complaint, but one that's hard to reconcile into a firm, sum total.
Beyond the mystery of his bat-handling, or clutchitude, the primary non-quantifiable attribute of Pierzynski is his work with the pitching staff. Whether it's pitch selection or sequencing, or just counseling the individual pitcher, he's lauded for getting the most out of the talent present.
Max Marchi of Baseball Prospectus took a stab at quantifying the impact of all catchers on the batter-pitcher confrontation, and the results are...well, they're going to inspire notice.
Nationwide, most are going to be shocked at the lengths to which the results would seem to redeem the defensive careers of Javy Lopez and Mike Piazza, but for our purposes, what jumps out is that A.J. Pierzynski is apparently the 6th greatest pitcher manager of all-time, and is credited for having saved 178 runs above average for his career.
That's a lot. I can't speak directly to the Wins Above Replacement value for a measure that's just been introduced, but know that being worth around 16 runs more than the average catcher per every 130 games would be a significant thing to factor into assessing Pierzynski's value as a player over his career.
But. While this is intriguing and fascinating work, there's salt to take with the first edition of a new potential metric, and we'll take hints on where to start from Jim Margalus and the fellas on the South Side Sox thread on the matter.
First, as Marchi admits, because we're measuring intangible performance, the only choice is to assess the run value of every plate appearance, remove the effect of every other measurable element, and credit the difference to the catcher. Marchi goes into fascinating detail about developing the run expectancy of every plate appearance based on the batter, the pitcher, handedness of each, the ballpark, and a few others, but there's a limitation in removing all variables, and uncertainty in crediting it all to the third party present.
Secondly, as Marchi concedes as well, the data is dependent on the accuracy of the projections, which has to not only account for the progressive aging and development of every player, but also stay accurate in the face of consistent flouters of advanced metrics such as Mark Buehrle (and the aid Don Cooper supplies), and finding an adequate sample to differentiate from in a situation as static as Pierzynski's mammoth amounts of playing time, and the relatively steady presences of Floyd, Danks and Buehrle.
One example Jim brought summed up the potential issues nicely.
"If you extrapolate Flowers' number to AJ's plate appearances, he’s 60 runs above average. Small sample caveat, of course, but I also figured that maybe White Sox pitchers make catchers look good."
Still, Pierzysnki is clearly quite good managing pitchers, excellent even. Coaches, teammates, scouts back it up, and now the first attempts to quantify it are superlative in their assessment. Rejoicing, I imagine would be the appropriate reaction. Pierzynski exists too much on the far end of the spectrum for the positive assessment of him to be noise, and it puts his more physical deficiencies behind the plate in a different perspective. A much more 'break-even' perspective.
And now for definitively crappy stuff.
OF Brandon Short tore his labrum crashing into the centerfield wall on Thursday, and is out for the season. He should recover fully, but it's a hard blow to the future of an already fringe prospect. Creepy parallels to the Jared Mitchell accident and a young playergetting punished for going all-out, combined into one story. Yeesh.