Yesterday, it was announced that the Boston Red Sox designated A.J. Pierzynski for assignment. This really wasn’t surprising. Though Pierzynski actually got off to an ok start to the season, performing at about league average offensively through May, he has crashed and burned since then. In June, he hit .173/.200/.213. Pierzynski needs to hit in order to stay on the field because he is a below average catcher. The Red Sox only owed him ~$4 million for the rest of the year, and with their prospect Christian Vázquez ready to be called up, DFAing Pierzynski became an easy decision.
The Red Sox organization has an ugly reputation for smearing players and coaches on their way out. The excess of sports media in Boston just eats this up, and of course, nobody eats up narratives like the BBWAA. Enter WEEI’s Rob Bradford. Today, he wrote a completely unnecessary article citing “unnamed sources” unhappy with Pierzynski. It was high on narrative and low on facts. Typical BBWAA fluff. Let’s take a look at what Bradford wrote.
“According to multiple sources within the Red Sox clubhouse, Pierzynski had become such a negative influence on the team that players approached both the Sox coaches and front office to address the problem.”
This one is on the Red Sox. What kind of coward anonymously bad mouths a person behind his back? Either put your name to it, or keep your mouth shut. This goes double in Boston, where there is just too much sports media. Feed them a narrative and they’ll be sure to make it a distraction just by the sheer volume of sports talk and writing.
“The common theme expressed was the catcher’s seeming indifference toward his teammates and the common goals of the same organization that had relied on an all-for-one approach when winning the 2013 World Series.”
This is also on the team. Pierzynski was brand new to the team and on a 1-year deal that was unlikely to get renewed given the catching depth in the farm system. He was just a filler, a place holder if you will; a bridge to Christian Vázquez or Blake Swihart. The players knew it, the coaches knew it, and the fans knew it. It certainly would’ve been nice if he cared about his teammates and the organization, but given the situation, why should he?
Also, did the team really rely on an all-for-one approach last year? I would like to think that a smart organization like the Boston Red Sox would rely on talent and performance, and not something nebulous like team spirit. I don’t know if that statement is on the players or Bradford, but it’s likely that both believe far too strongly in the team’s chemistry as the reason for their success last year. In reality, their chemistry was nothing more than a good, fun story. The reasons for the Red Sox success last year could fill a whole separate post, but in short, it was due to a great offseason by GM Ben Cherington, health, a few players overperforming, and some good old-fashioned luck. Just about everything that could’ve gone right for the Red Sox last year did. Even when closers were dropping left and right early in the season due to injury, Koji Uehara emerged to give the Red Sox a whopping 3.3 WAR in only 74.1 IP. Talent wins baseball games, not the proverbial holding hands and singing Kumbaya around the campfire.
“[Pierzynski's] propensity to spend a significant amount of time looking at his phone while at his locker during games.”
So what? Is it in his contract that he’s supposed to be pleasant and sociable? Everyone has known for 16 years that Pierzynski has a reputation for being unlikable. Had he forced himself to exhibit the personality that his teammates wanted, then the narrative probably would’ve changed to complaints of him being disingenuous. That’s the thing about narratives. They can be crafted to screw whoever you want.
“…after a particularly rough outing in which the starting pitcher had been pulled early in the game, Pierzynski could be found staring at his phone while the pitcher gave off the appearance of being an emotional wreck just a few feet away.”
I imagine that it’s normal for a catcher to comfort his pitcher after getting knocked around in an outing. I can’t imagine that a veteran pitcher would be “an emotional wreck” after a bad outing, so I’m speculating that this was either Ruby de la Rosa or Brandon Workman. If that’s the case, then I can understand his teammates being upset with Pierzynski, but he’s not the only person in that dugout capable of comforting the poor pitcher. If nobody talked to him, then the entire dugout is at fault. If somebody did talk to the pitcher, then it doesn’t matter that Pierzynski didn’t. To be clear, it’s a fair criticism, but too much is being made of it.
“The frustrations with Pierzynski among the Red Sox grew with the catcher’s indifference toward the perceived needs of the club.”
This is usually BS, but Bradford elaborated by saying that Pierzynski didn’t care about the success or failure of his pitching staff. That’s a very fair criticism. How much a catcher really helps his pitchers his highly debatable, but not even trying is just lazy.
“…it was tough to ignore the voices throughout the home clubhouse…which described an entirely different dugout environment than there had been up through Tuesday.”
Meaningless. They’re not going to turn it around just because they’re starting to feel all warm and fuzzy inside around each other.
“But the facts are the facts, and the facts are that this one player was identified as a dark cloud that had just been lifted by multiple members of what is perceived as one of baseball’s most tight-knit groups.”
It doesn’t seem that Bradford knows what facts are. Then again, I don’t expect somebody who voted for Miguel Cabrera for the 2013 AL MVP to know the difference between fact and fiction. Since we have no names attached to quotes, we have little idea which players or how many of them disliked Pierzynski. Furthermore, are the Red Sox still perceived as a tight-knit group? Who perceives them that way this season? And since when are perceptions facts? That statement above belongs in a novel, not in a sports article.
The column improved greatly when Bradford discussed the Red Sox options at catcher during the offseason. I didn’t like the Pierzynski signing when it happened. It had nothing to do with his personality, because I don’t care about that sort of thing, and really nobody else does. If you’re awesome, everyone overlooks it. If you suck, then it’s a problem. The thing is that people are just mad that you suck, and being a jerk is just one more thing to be mad at. Whatever an athlete’s personality, it always comes down to his performance. Back to Pierzynski, he’s a 37-year old, below average defensive catcher who never walks. The Red Sox former catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, signed with the Miami Marlins for a measly 3-year, $21 million deal. Why not sign him back if that was all he was asking for? The Rays and the A’s could’ve afforded that contract. Even if Cherington felt that Vazquez would be ready for the start of 2015, I’m sure he could’ve easily found somebody to trade for Salty with such a team-friendly contract. If Vázquez nor Swihart work out, you still have Salty as insurance. What made this all especially perplexing, is that Cherington has made it no secret that he pays attention to team chemistry. If you actually value such a thing, why not sign back the player who can help maintain it? Why sign Pierzynski, who anybody could’ve predicted would’ve been a detriment to team chemistry? At least Cherington took full responsibility for his bad decision to the press yesterday.
The column then started to deteriorate again.
“Pierzynski’s personality wasn’t conducive to the Red Sox’ way of doing things, saying what he wanted when he wanted without much regard for the greater good.”
Why would anybody expect a 37-year old, 16-season veteran to change the way he does things, regardless of his personality?
“From the dugout, he would yell across the field at the opposition, or ridicule umpires during replay challenges.”
I literally just saw Anthony Rizzo yelling at the Reds from his own dugout. But he’s a good player so it’s ok, right? Not to mention all the times that we’ve seen managers argue with umps. We don’t even have any context for the above statement. Come on.
“This wasn’t the Red Sox way, the one that a World Series run had been built on.”
Stupid narrative. This is a vague statement that is not backed up with any facts.
“Pitchers started to express their preference to pitch to David Ross.”
Of course they did. Ross is a much better catcher than Pierzynski. I would expect this to be true even if Pierzynski was a saint.
“He also made little effort to fall in line with the rest of the lineup in regard to seeing at least a few pitches…”
Again, why would anybody expect a 37-year old, 16-season veteran to change the way he does things? He has a career 4% BB%. That’s terrible. It’s completely unreasonable to expect such a player to suddenly develop patience at the plate.
The rest of the article is just more narrative crap that I won’t go over here.
Let me end by making something perfectly clear: It is not my intention to defend Pierzynski. He’s a jerk who got what was coming to him. The purpose of this post is to criticize the players who cowardly attacked Pierzynski without attaching their names to it, the Red Sox for allowing yet another smear campaign to occur to a former member of the organization, and Rob Bradford for enabling them by printing this crap.
This is my problem with beat writers. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being a beat writer, of course, but they tend to be high on narrative and low on analysis. There are good ones out there, to be sure. C. Trent Rosencrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer is an excellent beat writer. Coincidentally, so is Bradford’s colleague at WEEI, Alex Speier. I highly recommend reading him over Bradford.