Letting Go and Moving On

Of all the departed Texas Rangers from the 2013 team, I will miss A.J. Pierzynski the most.

There’s no doubt that some of my fellow writers at ShutDownInning.com will scoff at this admission, especially those better versed in sabermetrics.

Yes, I’m aware his wRC+ of 90 placed him 15th out of the 20 catchers in MLB with 400 or more plate appearances, and his 1.6 WAR put him at 16th overall. His OPS+ of 94 ranked 5th out of all Rangers players with 400+ PA’s for 2013. All numbers sure to draw a resounding “meh” from saber rattlers everywhere.

Even his traditional numbers lacked sex appeal. Using the 400+ PA threshold for catchers, A.J. finished eighth in homers (17) and RBI (70), tenth in batting average (.272), sixteenth in OBP (.297), and twentieth in walks (11).

Any production from Pierzynski that was deficient at the plate certainly wasn’t replaced by a rocket arm or cat like reflexes with the glove as a backstop. His 2 errors, 6 passed balls, and 33% caught stealing all put him slightly above the middle of the pack defensively among major league catchers last season.

I’m not going to miss A.J. because of anything extraordinary he did on the field, although moments like his game tying home run against the Angels in late July do stand out.

My disappointment that number 12 will be worn by someone else in Rangers red in 2014 comes from an appreciation of the anecdotal assets he brought to the table. They’re the actions he took to quickly win over a good portion of the Rangers fan base that questioned if he was a “fit” for the organization upon his arrival. Those “leadership” traits he displayed are the reason I’m anticipating a warm reception for AJP when he returns to Arlington on May 9th.

A.J.’s done his fair share to earn a place among the game’s most infamous competitors, pretty much all of which is summed up in this ESPN profile from 2009. Those same demonstrative displays of enthusiasm and antics in the wrestling ring earned him work as an analyst with FOX for their World Series coverage in 2011, and it was his level-headed, unbiased coverage of the Rangers and Cardinals that opened my mind to the possibility that this guy wasn’t the devil many believed him to be.

Once pitchers and catchers arrived, early reports from Surprise were of Pierzynski establishing himself as a positive voice in the locker room, working diligently with the pitching staff, and playing nice with the fans and media. During my weeklong visit to Rangers spring training, it was an added bonus to see and hear opposing fans so bothered by A.J.’s mere presence in the lineup.

Did any of those immeasurable qualities give the Rangers an edge in 2013, and by extension justify the man-crush I had and still have on AJP?

Another 90+ win season that extended beyond game 162 is nothing to scoff at. When Texas’ bats swooned in June, Pierzynski batted a robust .292 with an .806 OPS, and he served as a catalyst in the team’s August rebirth as well, eclipsing his June numbers with a .310 BA and .824 OPS. Add in the 5th best catcher’s ERA (3.63) in baseball (among qualifiers), and I’m tempted to answer with a resounding, “Heck yeah!”

But I don’t want to get carried away with romanticism and pre-Bill James thinking.

I understand why Jon Daniels and his group decided against sinking $8.25 million into a 36 year old catcher who’s replacement value is likely covered by someone making several million less. After all, this team is getting very close to their self proclaimed $125 million budget, with holes left to fill.

That being considered, I greatly enjoyed the season that A.J. Pierzynski put together in 2013, and I wish somehow that the marriage between the Rangers organization and him didn’t have to end so soon.

Dustin Copening is a Staff Writer for www.ShutDowninning.com. He can be reached at Dustin.Copening@shutdowninning.com or on Twitter @DFWFanConnect.
Dustin Copening

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