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?

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  1. [...] atrocious outfield defense and considered what things may have looked like if the near-misses for aging vets Aubrey Huff , Michael Young, and A.J. Pierzynski hadn’t been misses at all. We’ve [...]

  2. [...] atrocious outfield defense and considered what things may have looked like if the near-misses for aging vets Aubrey Huff , Michael Young, and A.J. Pierzynski hadn’t been misses at all. We’ve fretted that [...]

  3. [...] atrocious outfield defense and considered what things may have looked like if the near-misses for aging vets Aubrey Huff , Michael Young, and AJ Pierzynski hadn’t been misses at all. We’ve fretted that [...]

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  44. [...] players during the winter. For example, in the offseason of 2010-11, we learned that the Dodgers had showed serious interest in both Aubrey Huff and A.J. Pierzynski. Neither happened, of course, since both [...]