Did You Want A.J. Pierzynski As Your Catcher?

I’m not sure this is exactly news – I’m pretty sure we’d heard something similar to this a while ago – but I don’t remember discussing it here previously. Let’s ponder the alternate universe that could have been had the events described in today’s Chicago Tribune played out:

A few days later, as Pierzynski was waiting for Dodgers owner Frank McCourt to approve language in a contract proposal, Sox assistant general manager Rick Hahn and agent Steve Hilliard reached agreement on a two-year, $8 million deal before Pierzynski could tell the Dodgers he would accept their offer.

That allowed the Sox to turn from Olivo, who had them on his short list. He ended up with a two-year, $7 million contract with the Mariners less than a week after Pierzynski returned to the Sox.

“It all came together in a 15-minute span,” Pierzynski said. “I was pretty much resigned to the fact I wasn’t coming back.   (h/t MLBTR)

In the same way that Aubrey Huff was reportedly almost the new Dodger first baseman (or left fielder), A.J. Pierzynski was almost the new Dodger catcher, thus satifisfying the continued lust for aging ex-Giant veterans.

I’m mostly kidding about the Giant part – Pierzysnki played just one of his thirteen MLB seasons in San Francisco, coming over from Minnesota in one of the worst trades in baseball history – but certainly not the aging veteran part, as he’s 34 and coming off of a .300 OBP season. My initial thoughts at reading this were, well, let’s just say not ones of happiness.

So while it’s no secret that I wasn’t thrilled with giving Rod Barajas $3.25m for next season, does it turn out that since his was for less money, seemingly coming off a better year, that Barajas’ deal was actually the lesser of two evils? Let’s find out, and let me preface this by saying the fact that Pierzynski has a reputation throughout the game as an instigator is irrelevant to whether he’s a good ballplayer, and besides, that’s generally the type you despise on other teams but love on your own.

Let’s start on offense, where Pierzynski’s career worst 2010 (.688 OPS, 83 OPS+) doesn’t quite stack up to Barajas’ .731 and 97. But there’s mitigating factors there; Barajas had nearly 170 fewer PA, and his line is largely fueled by his completely unsustainable fluky debut as a Dodger. At the time he was dumped by the Mets, his OPS was .677, good for an 82 OPS+, or basically identical to Pierzynski. To avoid the vagaries of one fluky stretch, let’s look back over the last three years:

Barajas: 1176 PA, .237/.277/.418 83 OPS+   b-ref oWAR: 2.4
Pierzysnki: 1512 PA, .284/.315/.410 88 OPS+ b-ref oWAR: 4.2

Pierzynski has clearly been the more effective batter, in a greater sample size, over the last three seasons. Not much argument there. Defense, as we know, is much harder to quantify, but even moreso among catchers. FanGraphs has each of them as essentially average over 2008-10; baseball-reference rates Barajas as slightly above-average, with Pierzynski slightly below, though neither to such extents that it’s really meaningful. Even less meaningful to me are caught stealing numbers, highly dependent as they are on pitchers, but since I know someone will ask, Barajas was at 34%, 34%, and 15% the last three years. (Worth noting that the first two years each came in Toronto, while the last year was split between the Mets and Dodgers). Pierzynski comes in at 18%, 23%, and 26%, which again doesn’t really tell you anything.

I’ve never thought much of A.J. Pierzysnki, and I have to admit I’m somewhat surprised to say that this exercise has convinced me that he’s clearly the better choice than Barajas, without even noting that he’s more than a year younger. Of course, it’s not exactly a high bar to set – Barajas is pretty lousy – and that doesn’t mean that Pierzysnki is all that great himself.

On a one-year deal, I don’t think there’s any question who you’d rather. But Pierzysnki ended up getting two years, and more than twice the guaranteed money. It’s not as though the Dodgers have a young catcher ready for 2012, though, so assuming the Dodgers would have signed Dioner Navarro as a backup regardless, who would you have rather seen as the starter? The lefty-swinging Pierzysnki, historically better but coming off a poor year, for two years? Or the righty Barajas, historically awful, coming off of a fluky Dodger debut, for just one? Or forget Navarro entirely and try to hook up two of the only six A.J.’s in MLB history on the same position on the same club?

Mike MacDougal Gets a Pity Date

Mike MacDougal, who signed a minor-league deal with the Dodgers today, probably ranks up there with guys like Matt Capps and Kevin Gregg on the “just because you get saves, it does not make you a great pitcher” scale. A few seasons of 20+ saves with the Royals have apparently earned him the right to be referred to as “former All-Star” in team press releases.

MacDougal’s not, you know, any good, nor does he seem to have any real chance of cracking a Dodger bullpen which is not only righty-heavy but also pretty stocked already. Over the last four seasons with the White Sox, Cardinals, and Nationals, he’s put up a 1.783 WHIP with a 99/95 K/BB ratio in 132 innings. That’s the kind of stuff which will play hilariously in Albuquerque, though he does still throw hard (94.7 MPH average on his fastball last year).

Of course, it’s just a minor-league deal with an invite to camp, so there’s really nothing to get worked up about. On the plus side, his middle name is “Meiklejohn,” which is actually pretty awesome.

I’m Not Dead…

But my internet connection is, so posting has been – and may be – spotty for a few days, as I do my best to gank the unsecured wireless connections of the poor saps in my building. So I leave you with a quick thought, and feel free to discuss whatever you like in the comments.

Tony Jackson’s ESPN column today included the following segment:

Begin with Loney.

The lefty-hitting first baseman has never hit more than 15 home runs in a season and hit only 10 of them in 2010, but he had a career-high 41 doubles and drove in 88 runs, his third season in a row with at least that many RBIs.

This is not a dig at Jackson, who’s been one of the better Dodger beat writers in recent years and who I realize has to cater to an ESPN audience,  but the part about how Loney has put up at least 88 RBI at least three years in a row – as though that’s some sort of positive – kind of irks me. As I’m sure I don’t need to explain to the enlightened readers of this blog, RBI tells you just about nothing about a hitter other than how well his teammates did at getting on base ahead of him.

Baseball Prospectus has a fantastic statistic called ROB, which requires no fancy explanation; it’s merely the amount of runners on base a particular hitter had when he came up. Simply put, it’s the total number of chances for RBI (other than driving himself in with a homer) that a batter had.

Last year, James Loney had 463 ROB when he came to the plate, which was 10th most in baseball, and that high total is exactly how an average-ish hitter gets 88 RBI. His OBI% (i.e., the amount of those runners driven in, or 78 of 463) was tied for 44th best in the bigs, meaning that he got his 88 RBI by doing less with more.

As a point of comparison, Delmon Young of the Twins came up with 456 runners on base last year, almost identical to Loney’s 463. Yet because Young was so much more efficient with his at-bats, he drove in 91 of those runners, compared to Loney’s 78. That’s not including homers – because the argument I hear is that Loney’s RBI total means he’s very good at driving in runners, even if he doesn’t hit for power – and when you do include dingers, the gap gets larger, since Young drove in 112 RBI on the season.

Taking it the other way, Alexis Rios also had 88 RBI last year. If we’re judging just based on RBI, then he and Loney had the same season. Yet Rios had only 378 runners available to drive in, compared to Loney’s 463. Rios was MUCH more efficient, and had he been lucky enough to have been gifted with 463 runners on base, he would have ended up driving in well over 100 RBI.

As you can probably tell by now, that’s why RBI is as useless as pitcher wins. Yes, you need runs to win the game, and that makes RBI a team stat. It doesn’t tell you anything about how good a hitter is, because if he’s coming up with a guy on third, then someone else did 75% of his work. And what’s the point of a stat if it’s not helping you evaluate the player in question?

******

On Tuesday night, I was kindly invited to be a guest on the new Beyond the Boxscore podcast series with Dave Gershman of, well, everywhere, and Matt Klaassen of BtB and FanGraphs. It was great fun, and I don’t totally come off like a dingus, so have a listen. I’m in the second segment.

Scott Podsednik May Have Chosen Poorly


After Scott Podsednik came to the Dodgers from Kansas City in late July, he hit an underwhelming .262/.313/.336 (79 OPS+) in 160 plate appearances with below-average defense and a net of only two stolen bases. That was all before September 9; he ended up missing most of the last month of the season due to plantar fasciitis.

Despite Podsednik’s subpar performance as a Dodger and the fact that he’ll be 35 in March, the club picked up their half of a $2m (plus $300k in incentives) mutual option in November. At the time, Ned Colletti seemed to leave the door open for substantial playing time for Podsednik should he return:

“Our thought process after watching him play for us and seeing what he added to our club was that we would like to have him back,” said Dodgers GM Ned Colletti. “He obviously has versatility in the field, plus he has an added component in the speed he has.”

When asked if Podsednik could be an everday left fielder, Colletti said they would “have to wait and see. … He was last year until he got hurt.”

Fortunately for us all, Podsednik declined his option, and the fact that I still say that after three months of watching the Dodgers try and fail to fill that LF hole should tell you all you need to know about my opinion of Podsednik. Presumably, Podsednik’s thinking at the time was that he could do better than a one year, $2m deal, particularly since reports were that he and the Dodgers were still having conversations about his return even after declining the option.

That all went down in the first days of November. We’re now nearly into February – camps open in less than a month – and Podsednik is still without a home. Since then, we’ve heard the rumors fly about him, but nothing has quite worked out. At one point it was the Reds. They signed Fred Lewis and Jeremy Hermida. Then it was the Blue Jays. They acquired Rajai Davis and traded for Juan Rivera (and also, you know, have an awesome GM who’s smarter than that). We’ve heard about the Braves, but it seems unlikely they’d sign another lefty outfielder to go with Jason Heyward, Eric Hinske, and Nate McLouth.

So who’s left? Perhaps the Angels, because at this point absolutely nothing they do would surprise, though their outfield seems full enough with Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos, and Bobby Abreu. The Mets and Marlins may each need a veteran backup, yet neither team has shown any interest in spending this winter.

At this point, I think it’s clear that Podsednik probably screwed up by declining his option. It seems unlikely that anyone’s going to guarantee him $2m or give him an opportunity for as much playing time as he could have had with the Dodgers. The longer this drags on, the higher the chance is that he doesn’t even get a guaranteed major-league deal, though that’s most likely not going to end up happening. Honestly, I just want him to sign somewhere, if only to eliminate that 0.00001% chance that the Dodgers could still bring him back.  On the plus side, his mistake is our gain!

Good News For People Who Like Eric Chavez…

…as I’ve made it clear that I do. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle has some info on yesterday’s workout:

I heard from a scout who works for another NL team that the Dodgers were raving about Eric Chavez‘s tryout today; he swung the bat well and apparently looked healthy after being put through his paces. Also from the scouting grapevine, it sounds as if there is some pretty strong interest in Chavez elsewhere, but I know that Chavez is really excited about the Dodgers, so I hope that’s where he lands.

I’m trying not to get too excited about a guy who has essentially missed three of the last four seasons (between 2007-10, he played in 154 games with 628 PA, or roughly one full season), but the more I hear about this the more I want it to happen. With a roster like the Dodgers have, you have to take chances, and if there’s even a 5% chance this works out enough to keep Casey Blake on the bench against tough righty pitching, then it’s absolutely worth it.