After the Cards found out that Yadier Molina would be sidelined for 2-3 months with a right thumb injury, many analysts and fans thought that the Cards season was doomed. With Tony Cruz and George Kottaras not able to fill the void left behind by Molina, the prospect of the Cardinals returning to the postseason seemed even dimmer. But there could be a savior to the Cardinals season in town, and that man is A.J. Pierzynski.
Although Pierzynski underperformed as the Red Sox’s starting catcher, the Cards may have struck gold with this pickup if you look at his numbers the past few years. The 37-year-old catcher has shown signs of his age only this year with a .261 batting average and four homers, but as the Rangers’ catcher last year, Pierzynski hit .272 and clubbed 17 homers and 70 RBI’s. In the year prior, he arguably had his best season in the big leagues with the White Sox, the team he’s most associated with, as he batted .278 and belted 27 homers. That’s a lot of power for a catcher, and the Cardinals sorely need it, as the team is 29th in runs scored and 25th in slugging percentage.
In general, Pierzynski has power that current starting catcher Tony Cruz, who has zero homers and a .220 batting average in 82 at-bats this year, simply can’t provide. Furthermore, Cruz has just two career homers in four years as a backup catcher behind Molina, though, to be fair, it’s hard to expect a scarcely used catcher to come off the bench and hit for power.
Additionally, the Cards starting pitchers may benefit from Pierzynski’s veteran presence, 17 seasons to be exact, behind the plate. Wainwright seemed very comfortable with Pierzynski on Sunday when he pitched seven shutout innings, while Shelby Miller had his best start in over a month with Pierzynski behind the plate on Saturday.
So how often can we expect to see Pierzynski behind the plate this year? Well, Matheny recently said that he foresaw using Pierzynski in a platoon with Cruz.
“I think it’ll be a lot like what we’ve seen with quite a few of the other positions. We’ll see how guys are going, what we need to do, realizing there is a platoon opportunity,” Matheny said. “That was part of the conversation with A.J., too, was letting him know that we’ve got a guy [Cruz] we have faith in and has done a nice job.”
More specifically, Cards fans can expect Cruz to start against lefties and Pierzynski against righties. Pierzynski is a horrendous .195 hitter against lefties, so it’s logical to expect that Cruz will start over him in most of those situations. Pierzynski fares much better against righties (.294 batting average), and if he continues to swing a hot bat, Matheny will be more than happy to start him over Cruz.
With all of that being said, Pierzynski still has a few skeletons in his closet. For one, his fielding may turn out to be a big problem, as he has caught stealing just 9 of 48 runners this season. There could also be problems with Pierzynski’s clubhouse presence, not to mention his reputation for causing brawls (Remember this punch?). All in all, though Pierzynski may not have a reputation for doing things the “Cardinal way”, he provides experience and a jolt of offense to a team that desperately needs it, and the reward could greatly outweigh the risk.