No matter what A.J. Pierzynski did in 2010, his future with the White Sox was going to be up in the air following the season. Pierzynski’s future with the White Sox beyond his current contract was directly tied to the performance of Tyler Flowers.
Flowers struggled in 2010 (more on him later in the week). But so did Pierzynski.
So now the White Sox are left in a state of limbo regarding the team’s catcher for 2011. Should Pierzynski be brought back? Should Flowers be handed the keys to the team’s Bentley of a pitching staff? Or should they spurn both options for something better?
I’ll kick off my player review series (now in its third year!) with the subject of one of the biggest offseason decisions for the White Sox.
Stats and stuff
- fWAR: 1.8
- FanGraphs page
- bWAR: 1.2
- Baseball-Reference page
Thanks to a strong finish, Pierzynski’s .270/.300/.388 triple-slash doesn’t look as horrific as it might have looked. Okay, that’s a pretty bad line even with his good finish. I guess Frank Omiyale isn’t a bad offensive lineman when compared to a cardboard cutout of himself.
Despite a solid June (.317/.349/.463), Pierzynski’s slash line in his first 90 games (April 5-Aug. 7) was a paltry .235/.272/.349. His .241 BABIP was unlucky, but it also wasn’t like Pierzynski was exactly stinging the ball in April, May, and July.
Luckily for Pierzynski, his BABIP did its best to regress to the mean from early August through the end of the season. In his last 38 games, Pierzynski had a BABIP of .361, keying a .347/.362/.476 line to close out the season.
In essence, Pierzynski had three good months (June, .357 wOBA; August, .353 wOBA; September/October, .351 wOBA) and three putrid months (April, .202 wOBA; May, .281 wOBA; July, .239 wOBA).
Not surprisingly, Pierzynski’s month-to-month BABIPs are ridiculously low in his three bad months (.185, .235, .203) and above average in his three good months (.338, .346, .358). But ultimately, Pierzynski’s 15.7 line drive rate roughly jives with his .279 BABIP for the season, meaning that he was fairly luck-neutral.
With that in mind, Pierzynski’s final slash line shouldn’t be viewed as unlucky. While Pierzynski’s slash line was below his White Sox average of .278/.316/.415, for a 33-year-old catcher, that decline to .270/.300/.388 sounds about right.
It’s rare to see a catcher have offensive success past his mid-30’s, especially one who 1) played over 130 games the previous four seasons and 2) never was that good offensively to begin with. We can read into BABIPs and line drive rates all we want, but 33-year-old catchers almost always are on the downslope of their careers.
To little of a bad thing isn’t a good thing
An interesting note for Pierzynski is that he seems to really have bought into the White Sox no-strikeouts strategy. All year, the Sox coaching staff has preached their abhorrence of strikeouts, and that message appears to have hit home with Pierzynski.
The movement away from strikeouts began in 2009 for Pierzynski, when he saw his contact rate shoot from 84.9 percent in 2008 to 88.0 in ’09. His strikeout percentage, in turn, dropped from 13.3 percent to 10.3 percent.
In 2010, that contact rate fell to 86.3 percent, but his strikeout percentage fell to 8.3 percent, the lowest its been since his 5.7 percent strikeout rate in his regrettable one-year stop with the Giants.
There are two ways to look at Pierzynski’s low strikeout rate. The first, more positive way is that, by putting the ball in play, Pierzynski gave himself a chance to get on base almost every at-bat.
The second, more pessimistic way is that, by doing everything possible to avoid striking out, Pierzynski put himself in a worse position to get on base almost every at-bat.
I’m subscribing to the latter theory.
While Pierzynski swung at a fewer percentage of pitches in 2010 as compared to 2009, his plate discipline was much worse. He swung at more pitches out of the strike zone (41.7 percent, a 3.6 percent jump from 2009) while swinging at fewer in the zone (74.3 percent, a 4.4 percent drop from 2009). Pitchers obviously caught on to Pierzynski’s enhanced free-swinging ways, as he saw the fewest percentage of pitches in the strike zone (46 percent) in his career.
All those swings on balls out of the strike zone led to worse contact for Pierzynski. That’s why his line drive rate was the lowest of his career, that’s why his ground ball rate (48.7 percent) was the highest of his career, and that’s why his wOBA (.300) was the lowest of his career.
This strikeout issue wasn’t confined to Pierzynski—as a team, the White Sox struck out in about two percent fewer at-bats in 2010 than they did in 2009. It’ll be a common theme as I run through position player reviews, and most of the time, it won’t be a good thing.
Strikeouts aren’t evil. They’re outs, which are bad. Avoiding outs, obviously, is the goal of offense. But the best strategy to avoiding outs isn’t always to avoid strikeouts. That’s not saying that Pierzynski would’ve magically had a good offensive year had he struck out more—he’s always been a free swinger who doesn’t walk much—but maybe he hits more line drives that led to more hits with a “hit the ball hard” strategy instead of a “put the ball in play” strategy.
By no means did Pierzynski play his way on to the the 2011 White Sox, strong finish or not. While it’s true that Pierzynski’s 1.8 fWAR translates to a value of $7.3 million—just over a million dollars more than his $6.25 million salary—it’s easy to wonder if the White Sox could get similar production for a fraction of the price out of Flowers.
I’ll get more into Flowers later, but he probably won’t be a 1.8-win player in 2011. He’ll probably be lower than that. But if the White Sox need to save money somewhere besides Bobby Jenks’ inevitable non-tendering, they could save more than a few million dollars by going with Flowers and Ramon Castro behind the plate in 2011.
Pierzynski, unless he takes a massive pay cut, just doesn’t seem to make sense for the White Sox in 2011.
And if Pierzynski indeed has played his last game with the White Sox, he’s done a very nice job on the South Side. I’ll be the first to tell you he’s been overrated by the fans, he only had two years in which he really was very good, his game-calling abilities are overplayed, etc.
But I know that Pierzynski’s done pretty well for himself to find one fan base that won’t mercilessly boo him when he’s an opponent. In 29 stadiums across baseball, fans booed Pierzynski, most of whom didn’t know why. They just hated the guy, even if they were Nationals fans with no reason whatsoever to dislike Pierzynski.
No matter what, Pierzynski will be cheered and cheered loudly whenever he makes his return to the South Side. I’ll be right there with everyone cheering Pierzynski, too.
I just hope he doesn’t make his return in a White Sox uniform.
- Jim wraps up the season at Sox Machine.
- HSA recaps game No. 162 at South Side Sox.
- And Oral Sox has their 2010 swan song podcast up.
Aside: I had the chance to meet all three of the people behind those links this season, as well as Cheat, Colin, and Larry from South Side Sox along all-around good guy and SSS contributor Rob Hart. It was a pleasure getting to meet the people behind the Jim Thome rants, and hopefully I’ll get to B.S. with everybody next season.
A special thanks go out to Adam and Jeff from the Oral Sox Podcast for having me on their show a bunch of times this year. Adam and Jeff are great guys, and I can’t recommend their podcast enough if you’re looking for an enjoyable take on the Sox.
Also, a special shout-out to my blogging friends up north, especially Seth Stohs of SethSpeaks.net and John Bonnes of TwinsGeek.com for giving me a number of neat opportunities to appear on podcasts, write content for the Twins’ official scorecard, and contribute to the 2010 Trade Deadline Primer series. I’ll admit that I won’t be too torn up if the Twins win the division because I’ve had such positive interactions with their bloggers and fans…and because I want to see Jim Thome win a World Series.
And finally, thanks to everyone who read my stuff throughout the season—it got a little, okay, really hard to write during September when I was caught up in other stuff and didn’t have much motivation to watch the Sox—but rest assured that I’m planning on being back in full force for the offseason, starting with these player reviews. Stay tuned, and try to not watch the Bears. They’re awful.