At the same time it was announced that the Adam Dunn deal had been reached with the White Sox, it was also announced that catcher, A. J. Pierzynski had re-upped with the team for two more years. The Fan's immediate thought was, "Well, one out of two ain't bad." However, since this writer endeavors to have somewhat of an open mind, a search was made on the deal and on Pierzynski's value to the White Sox. Surprisingly, the deal makes sense from just about every angle.
First, the deal is for peanuts. Pierzynski will earn $2 million in 2011 and $6 million in 2012. It seems odd that those numbers aren't reversed, but it really doesn't matter. Just average it out to $4 million a year and go by that. According to Fangraphs, Pierzynski was worth $7 million in 2010 and Baseball Prospectus projects Pierzynski to be worth $11 million over the next two years. How can that be, you ask?
It all has to do with positional value. Each position on the diamond is given a positional value. The catcher has the highest positional value followed by the shortstop and so on. The positional value for catchers is 12.5 for 162 games. Catchers who catch a percentage of those 162 games are given that percentage of the positional value. Hopefully, the Fan hasn't lost you yet because this is hard enough for this old brain to understand. Anyway, since Pierzynski always catches a high percentage of the White Sox's games, he gets a 9.4 positional value. Got that? Okay....moving on...
Okay, next is replacement value. The Fan doesn't get this one at all, but the way it works is that there are 20 points (runs) of value for every 600 plate appearances. If you take Pierzynski's plate appearances (503) that works out to a percentage of 83.83833333% (503 divided by 600). If you multiply the 20 times the percentage just listed, you get 16.77777 of the 20 replacement points. Round that up to 16.8 and that's what Pierzynski was assigned for replacement points. Now we can do the math on his value.
Add 16.8 (replacement value) plus 9.4 (positional value) plus 2 (fielding value - he had a good year) and then subract 11.2 (his negative offensive value) and you come up with 16.9 Runs Above Replacement which boils down to a 1.8 WAR and a value of $7 million. Whew. This brain hurts.
Again, Baseball Prospectus projects Pierzynski to be worth around $5.7 million in 2011. Bill James just came out with his projections and he is even more high on the catcher for 2011 and thinks his offensive numbers will be better than in 2010. That has to be based on the fact that his walk rate was the lowest he's had since 2002 and that his BABIP was .278 and should bounce back to at least .290. If James is right, then Pierzynski should be worth at least the $7 million he was worth in 2010. The only question is if Pierzynski will get the playing time he's always had before.
The answer seems to be yes. The other White Sox catcher is Ramon Castro, a twelve year veteran who is the same age as Pierzynski. Castro actually seems to hit better and his percentage of base runners caught is just a bit higher, but there is no doubt that Castro is the back up catcher. His salary is a true indicator of how the White Sox feel about the two.
Most of what you read about Pierzynski is that the pitching staff loves throwing to the guy. So if you add that to the fact that his salary will be a bargain to the White Sox, blunts a bit the observation that he was the 20th most valuable catcher in baseball last year despite catching more games than just about everybody. The White Sox need to have enough offense to cover for Pierzynski's offensive weakness, but that is what Dunn was hired to do. If they bring Konerko back, scoring runs won't be an issue with or without Pierzynski.
The Fan's gut reaction to the announcement of the Pierzynski deal was wrong and maybe it wanted to be right because Pierzynski is such an unlikeable guy (for anyone who isn't a fan of the White Sox). But even so, the gut reaction was wrong. This deal makes fiscal sense for the White Sox and it's a good move for the team as a whole.