What the Rangers saw in A.J. Pierzynski

April 08, 2014 - 1:33 pm

It's been a less-than-seamless start to catcher A.J. Pierzynski's Red Sox career. Late on Monday night, after a three-hit game that played a critical role in the Sox' 5-1 win over the Rangers, Pierzynski acknowledged that the start to his Red Sox tenure had been a frustrating one, after he'd opened with a .125 average (2-for-16) with the team going 1-4 in his games played (including 1-3 in his starts), and said that it was a relief to contribute -- finally -- to a win. That slow start, along with the slight lifting of the curtain to suggest that he's hardly the prototypically even-keeled catcher who never admits to frustrations, have made Pierzynski an easy target in the early stages of the 2014 season, with questions emerging, at least in public dialogue surrounding the club, about whether the 37-year-old profiles as the right option behind the plate for the Sox. Yet for a sense of Pierzynski's fit with the Sox, the Red Sox need look no further than to their visiting counterparts in Fenway Park. After Pierzynski had one of the best years of his career in 2012 with the White Sox (.278/.326/.501 with a career-high 27 homers), he signed a one-year deal with the Rangers for the 2013 campaign. The Rangers viewed him as a sound bet for a one-year deal in 2013, just as the Red Sox felt that he was a solid choice to be their primary backstop in 2014. In both instances, the limited commitment of a year reduced any risk that might exist with either regression given his age or if he proved (or proves) an imperfect fit for the clubhouse. With Texas, Pierzynski did indeed endure some offensive regression -- particularly in assuming a swing-at-everything posture -- while hitting .272/.297/.425 and swatting 17 homers in 134 games (including 119 behind the plate). Still, the Rangers played relatively well when he was behind the plate, going 61-50 (.549 winning percentage, almost exactly in line with the team's .558 winning percentage for the year), and Texas emerged with a favorable impression of Pierzynski. "Winner, shows up every day to play, wants to win bad. Those are the things that we liked in him," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "He helped us win a lot of games last year." Certainly the Rangers were aware of the perception related to Pierzynski's makeup, though their research suggested that most of the concerns about his makeup stemmed from his one season (2004) with the Giants. There had been some internal incidents during his eight-year tenure in Chicago as well (his in-game confrontation with Jake Peavy comes to mind), but the larger picture was of a guy who wanted desperately to play and to win. "I never concern myself with [reputation]," said Washington. "I know what's out there, but I also watched him when he first got here to the major leagues as a rookie. All he wanted to do was whip your ass, and it didn't matter who he was or how he did it. And a lot of times, there were things he did that rubbed people the wrong way, but if he was on my team, I say, 'So what?' " And ultimately, while sources suggest that there were instances of Pierzynski's penchant for quippery rubbing some teammates the wrong way at times, ultimately he was viewed favorably by those who played with him for the 2013 season. His pitchers seemingly respected the work he invested into game-planning and had trust in his veteran judgment of what to call for. "Obviously you heard about him, everyone said stuff about him. But when you got to be on his team man, he'€™s a great teammate, plays hard, works hard, so obviously I think everyone has this thought of who he is [that[ is wrong because he obviously goes out there battling to do what he has to do," said pitcher Robbie Ross. "He was a veteran, man, he knew what he was doing back there. Good guy, went out there and battled every day. Went about his business well. It wasn'€™t like you had to tell him too much. After he saw you once it was like he knew what you got and that'€™s what he was going to go with." Still, while his game-planning and game-calling received high marks, there were times when he appeared stiff in his actions behind the plate. That was particularly evident in something like blocking pitches, but he did a solid job of controlling the running game (catching 24 of 73 attempts at thievery, a 33 percent success rate that was above league average) and Texas felt comfortable with his overall defensive game. "I thought he did a good job of calling games. He's not as mobile as he was when he was a youngster. I think you see that. But he certainly does his homework on opposing teams," said Washington. "He's prepared. Again, there's no perfection, so you're going to see some deficiencies, but for the most part you got a guy that shows up every day, wanting to play, he wants to help his pitchers get through innings and he wants to win."