SEATTLE — A.J. Pierzynski entered Wednesday night having caught 1,735 games with a .995 fielding percentage, seventh-best all time for a catcher.
He’s a .282 career hitter with a .746 OPS. He’s a .300 hitter in 100 postseason at-bats, including .438 in the 2002 Division Series against Oakland and .444 in the 2005 Division Series against Boston.
What we’re getting at is, he’s not changing a thing. He’s lasted 17 years in the major leagues with this approach, so if he doesn’t take as many pitches as you’d like, even after the pitcher has walked three of the last four batters, as was the case in Tuesday’s 8-2 loss to the Mariners, so be it.
Rip him if you want. Say he’s not the Red Sox’ type of hitter. Chastize him for dropped balls and balls that get by him. Pierzynski will tell you he tries his best, plays with intensity, and wants to win badly.
“I go up there in certain situations looking for certain pitches, and if I get it I’m going to swing at it,” Pierzynski said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t work. That’s all you can try to do.”
He’ll also tell you he’s having a lousy year. He entered Wednesday night’s series finale hitting .250. He’d walked only seven times. His OBP was .280 and OPS .637.
But he’s not going to be something he’s not. He’s a throwback hitter and he’ll stick to that, thank you. The great hitters of yesteryear didn’t wait for the count to be 3 and 2 before they swung. If they saw the pitch they wanted they swung, whether it was the first pitch or the third pitch. On Tuesday, Pierzynski saw only nine pitches in four at-bats.
“I try to go up there and get good pitches to hit,” said Pierzynski. “I swing and I put the ball in play. I don’t foul off a lot of pitches. It’s not like I go up there and swing at bad pitches; everybody swings at bad pitches once in a while. I think sometimes I put them in play and that’s part of it. I’ve been doing this for a long time and obviously I’m not swinging the bat the way I want to be. It’s going to turn around and when it does there will be a lot of hits coming.”
And he’s right, because that’s his history.
The Red Sox signed Pierzynski for one year at $8.25 million, knowing exactly who they were getting. They knew he was different than the grind-it-out approach of the majority of their lineup. But really, that approach hasn’t worked this season, either.
“Every team I’ve been on, they haven’t tried to change me,” Pierzynski said. “They know what I’ve done in my career. It speaks for itself. One year we talked with the White Sox about taking more walks, but then they realized it took away from the way I hit. It’s not for lack of wanting to [be more patient], it’s just the way I’ve done it, and I think it’s been successful.”
Pierzynski wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s always been considered baseball’s bad boy, and he’s had a reputation for being the most-hated player in baseball.
He doesn’t mind being hated by the opposition, but he doesn’t feel that from his team. When he’s on the field, he’s rarely shaken off by the pitcher because there’s respect for the game he’s calling. That’s probably because of his vast experience, including catching a World Series championship staff with the White Sox in 2005.
What bothers Pierzynski are constant references to his past and his style of hitting.
“I don’t think it usually bothers me,” he said. “This year it’s just been repeatedly, repeatedly brought up. I can’t go up there trying to please everybody. I think sometimes I’ve gone up there and tried to do that instead of just trying to hit the ball competing against the pitchers. It seems like I’m competing against every person on the earth instead of just the pitcher, and it’s led to some things. I had a nice talk with Torey [Lovullo] and some people — [Brian Butterfield] and those guys, Vic [Rodriguez] and Timmy [Hyers]. We got some things settled. I’ve done this for a long time and been pretty good at it. I’m not going to allow a bad week to destroy my confidence. I’m going to get going in the right direction sooner rather than later.
“It wears you down a bit, but I’m used to it now. My family has to read it, so that gets on you a little bit. It’s not fair to them. Sometimes things are brought up before my kids were even born. I come here to play and win and do everything I can to win that day. If that rubs people the wrong way, I can’t control that. I know the people I play with respect how I go about it every day and give it everything I have. This game is based on wins and losses, and if you lose everyone points fingers.”
Pierzynski’s old-school style doesn’t lend itself to sabermetrics. He has nothing against the new approach to hitting, but sometimes it gets frustrating hearing about all the new, obscure statistics.
“It used to be about average, home runs, and RBIs,” he said, “and now it turned into BABIP and stuff you can’t pronounce. At the end of the day you’re either a good player or you’re not. You can look at the stats and justify anything. And I’m not against the sabermetric stuff at all. Sometimes it’s hard to quantify. The bottom line is if you help your team win, that’s all that matters.”
Pierzynski may look as if he’s in a hurry to get home with his batting style, but his number of games caught tells a different story. Before signing with the Red Sox, he had to buy in to catching only about 100 games. But at age 37, he accepted it.
“I like to play,” Pierzynski said. “This year I knew I was going to play a little less, and I’m fine with that. [David Ross] is a good player. I think we’ve done a good job defensively and pitching-wise. We’ve been pretty good. Our pitchers have been really good. My No. 1 job is to help the pitchers, and our pitchers are good.
“Offensively, we have guys with long track records of hitting. I don’t see [Dustin] Pedroia hitting .260 all year or David [Ortiz] hitting .250 all year. [Mike Napoli] is starting to turn it on. [Xander Bogaerts] is going to get there. I’m going to get there. There are a lot of guys on this team who can hit. We have pitching and we have veteran guys who have done it. So we think we’re going to be back to what we’re supposed to be.”
Does Pierzynski wish he were a patient hitter?
“Yeah, because it would be nice to be like an Adam Dunn who can take a walk 98 percent of the time if he wants to,” he said. “If a guy throws it down the middle, I say, ‘Why didn’t I swing at that one?’ Sometimes I go up there and I want to prove I can hit a certain pitch. There are always things you wish you could do better, but you have to go up there and believe in yourself. Hitting is a hard thing. A lot of it is the mental grind of every day and every at-bat.”
He is what he is. He is what his numbers say he is. And he thinks before long those numbers will endear him to the fans, who right now feel he doesn’t quite fit.