ST. LOUIS — A.J. Pierzynski needed all of one game to show why the Cardinals wanted him.
He can hit. Fresh off the plane from Cooperstown, where he was on hand for the induction of former teammate Frank Thomas, Pierzynski went 3 for 5 with an RBI in a 6-3 victory over the Cubs. No adjustment period needed, no shaking off the rust required.
Not bad for a guy who hadn’t played in nearly three weeks. But you needed only to look at his .283 career batting average, second to Yadier Molina (.285) among active catchers, to see that Pierzynski could affect the Cardinals with his hitting.
What else can he do and not do? First a look at what he is sure to do: Bring an edge to the clubhouse.
What isn’t known is whether that edge will be a positive thing.
At first glance, you probably would say no. Just days after the Red Sox dumped him even though they still owed him a few million on his $7.5 million one-year contract, reports surfaced out of Boston that Pierzynski had become such a negative influence that some teammates complained to management about him. His biggest problem seemed to be an indifference to how well the Red Sox pitchers performed.
Such a claim, however, does not sound like what happened in Texas last year. In his first and only season with the Rangers, Pierzynski clashed with Yu Darvish over pitch selection. Pierzynski wanted Darvish to throw more fastballs and would not back down from calling for them even when Darvish wanted to vary his approach. It reached a point that by the end of the season, Pierzynski no longer was catching when Darvish started.
But guess what? Coincidence or not, Darvish is throwing more fastballs this season. According to fangraphs.com, he has thrown 54.9 percent fastballs in 2014, compared with 38.2 percent last year.
Shelby Miller might go along more with Pierzynski’s game-calling the next time he starts. After beating the Cubs with his best outing in weeks on Saturday, Miller told reporters that Pierzynski called for an outside pitch to Chris Coghlan but Miller wanted to go inside. Miller got his way and Coghlan ripped a fly ball to right field.
"That was a mistake on my part," Miller told reporters after the game. "He told me (Coghlan) was opening up for a pitch inside and I didn’t see that. That’s where his veteran experience comes in."
Another point to remember about Pierzynski’s exit from Boston: He was not the first Red Sox player to be criticized anonymously on the way out of town.
This isn’t to say teammates haven’t had valid reasons to be annoyed by Pierzynski. You don’t need to check with many to know he rubbed some of his own pitchers the wrong way in his eight seasons with the White Sox.
He also has been known to rankle teammates with his unfiltered comments on and off the field. That he does not stick to the "Bull Durham" script in interviews is appreciated by the media, but not always by his own team.
Pierzynski also is known for barking at umpires and opponents from the dugout. How this plays with Mike Matheny will be worth watching. Pierzynski has reason to be on his best behavior, though, because he is 37 and already is finding out that, as the skills diminish, jobs are harder to come by when you’re not always well-liked.
He must not be thinking about retirement, either. Otherwise, he could have gotten a taste of it by sitting out the rest of this season while collecting his salary from the Red Sox.
Now, for a couple of things Pierzynski won’t bring.
First, there’s his inability to slow down the running game. The longer Yadier Molina sits, the more obvious his ability in this department was sure to show no matter who else was catching.
Molina has allowed 312 stolen bases and picked off 45 runners since he arrived in the majors in 2004. In the same time span, Pierzynski has allowed 810 steals and has five pickoffs. Of course, comparing any catcher’s ability to shut down a running game to Molina’s is like comparing a Mercedes to a Yugo.
But Pierzynski’s throwing doesn’t stack up against many catchers. His stolen bases allowed are the most in the majors since ’04, and his 23.2 percent success rate of throwing out would-be basestealers is one of the poorest.
And don’t look for many walks.
Pierzynski’s aggressiveness at the plate did not fit well in Boston, either. Since he debuted with the Twins in 1998, he has averaged 3.32 pitches per plate appearance, the lowest in the majors. (No. 6 on that list is Molina, so their games do have something in common.)
Pierzynski has averaged a walk every 25.2 plate appearances for his career, including last year when he walked 11 times in 529 plate appearances — and two of those were intentional. On the flip side, he’s not a high strikeout hitter. He is averaging one strikeout per 6.88 PAs this season, which is up over his career average of 1/8.63 PAs.
Whether he works out or not, Pierzynski will not cost the Cardinals much. Because the Red Sox released him, the Cardinals have to pay him only the prorated portion of the minimum salary. That figures to be a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
Even if Molina doesn’t return in early September as the club is hoping, the price for Pierzynski was right because they did not have to give up anything in a trade. From what GM John Mozeliak said on FOX Sports Midwest the other day, he had his eyes on Pierzynski all along and signed George Kottaras mainly because he already was available.
LET’S GO CARDINALS: Check out these photos of fans and the excitement around Cardinals baseball.
Pierzynski had to be released by the Red Sox and clear waivers before he could become a free agent. Mozeliak said the Cardinals weren’t the only team ready to take a chance.
If Pierzynski stays hot at the plate, the gamble will be well worth it. If he doesn’t, the Cardinals can send him on his way with few regrets. Either way, he’s a sound short-term investment.