Difference Maker: AJ Pierzynski

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I was like you. Yeah, you. You who hated AJ Pierzynski for the things he said about the Rangers losing in the playoffs. Someone decided he’d be the best at talking about the playoffs. We decided we didn’t like what he had to say. AJ Pierzynski, the guy who was player-voted the “most hated player in the game.” When the Rangers signed him, I had mixed feelings. Do I want this well-known hated player on the team I cheer for hard every day? Am I going to be able to support this guy? The answer now is definitely yes. Looking back on his career as a catcher, I can’t do anything but support this guy in a Texas Rangers uniform. He’s one of the better than average catchers out there, and I like seeing that “TEXAS” across his chest.
Last year, at age 35, Pierzynski had a career year. He had a career high 68 runs scored and .827 OPS. If he can come close to that this year, he’s worth every penny spent (not that it was too much anyway). A 3.2 fWAR suggests he’s worth more than he’s paid, but I’m not entirely sure he’ll do that again. He’ll come close. With Mike Napoli’s hip problems, and Geovany Soto being, well, Geovany Soto, AJ Pierzynski is an asset behind the plate. My colleague, Patrick Despain, wrote about his catching abilities, and I’m here to tell you, the offense will be there as well.

As a career .284 hitter with a better than average strikeout rate, Pierzynski’s ability to put the ball in play is key to his success. He doesn’t see a lot of walks, but mostly because he’ll get a hit. Or two or three. Catchers may not be the best offensively, and that’s okay. They call games. They work well with pitchers. They have defensively abilities that are important, and oftentimes great offensive ability is a plus. AJ has that, and always has. Of course so far this season it’s a small sample size, but it’s hard to be disappointed with what has been seen. A hit a game (as of 4/4)? I’ll take that. So would anyone. It won’t keep up that way, but if it averages out that way at the end of the season, I’ll take it.

It’s worth noting that AJ’s career line is .284/.324/.752. None of that is anything to scoff at. That line, especially for a catcher, is something to enjoy.

Worst case scenario is that Pierzynski has a slightly less than average year, and maybe doesn’t throw out as many runners on the basepaths as most of us would like to see. He’ll still end the year with a positive WAR (because the only time he hasn’t, he played only 7 games in 1998), and not cost the Rangers much in the process. Best case scenario is that AJ repeats last year. He’ll have a great year with many hits, many runs scored and many opportunities, and maybe still doesn’t throw out as many runners on the basepaths as most of us would like to see. However, his offensive help and his ability to work with pitchers might make up for that.

AJ Pierzynski is 36 years old. He’s been in the league for 16 years, and shown zero signs of decline. He’s not done. Read Patrick’s article on his effect with pitchers and strike zones. Read this article about his offensive ability. Put aside the hard feelings. Put aside whatever you think about his attitude. AJ Pierzynski is a good baseball player, and he’ll put all of himself on that field. AJ Pierzynski will be better than Mike Napoli could’ve been. AJ Pierzynski will help this team win.

Emily Cates is a Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can reach her at Emily.Cates@ShutDownInning.com or on Twitter at @EmLikesBaseball.
Emily Cates

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