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Colby Wilson’s Atlanta Braves Report: The Ascension of A.J. Pierzynski

 

Atlanta BravesClarksville, TN – You want me to talk about John Hart and the Confusing, Off-the-Wall, Nonsensical, Very Weird Deal or do you want me to talk about something else? I have to mention it, obviously, but I can do it in 80 words or I can do it 800 words.

You picked 80. Smart.

I think when you make a deal where the biggest principles involved are a 24-year old mid-rotation starter, a 21-year old top prospect, a two-time All-Star closer and a 30-year old super prospect whose never seen a big-league pitch and has a sketchy injury history—and the only one you end up with is the 30-year old—then unless the 30-year old turns into steroids-era Mark McGwire or better, you lost the trade. But hey, no pressure Hector Olivera. Pickles.

(Sorry, I was on 79. Needed one more.)

Atlanta Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski (15) in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies   won 9-3. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Atlanta Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski (15) in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies won 9-3. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

But let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk about something happy.

Let’s talk about A.J. Pierzynski.

Funny old world, isn’t it? Who would’ve thought that Pierzynski—the captain of the Clubhouse Cancer All-Stars in Boston as recently as last season—would not only thrive in Atlanta, but be a steadying presence in a season of turmoil? This season alone, Pierzynski has not only wrested control of the starting catcher job from wunderkind Christian Bethancourt—last seen hitting .299 in Gwinnett—but has worked with a whopping 31 pitchers and counting, including a bullpen currently using all the spring training numbers (61, 63, 64 and 66), and somehow the pitching hasn’t really been the problem.

(The one problem: at his age, Pierzynski can’t be relied on as a solid defensive catcher, as you’ll note by his minus-16.1 extra strikes from pitch framing. According to Fangraphs, he’s dead last in defensive runs saved at minus-8. So it’s not all roses.)

Atlanta Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski (15) watches his game tying two run home run along with San Francisco Giants catcher   Buster Posey (28) during the ninth inning at Turner Field. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

Atlanta Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski (15) watches his game tying two run home run along with San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) during the ninth inning at Turner Field. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

Monday night against the San Francisco Giants, Pierzynski tossed the team on his back and pretty much single-handedly helped the Braves win back-to-back games for the first time since July 21st. He had his third four-hit game of the season—A.J. Pierzynski! At 38 years old!—including a game-tying home run in the ninth inning that sent it into extras, which the Braves won. All this without the injured Andrelton Simmons and that saw Freddie Freeman get injured yet again (this is turning into a lost season for Freeman), so most of Pierzynski’s lineup protection consisted of Cameron Maybin and Chris Johnson, which is just the worst.

Not only was the wrap on Pierzynski that he was a horrible clubhouse guy who would napalm a young and in a state of constant flux situation in Atlanta, there was no real evidence that he was still much of a ballplayer coming into this year. He had his lowest batting average (.251) and home run total (5) in 2014, splitting time with Boston and St. Louis. He was old. He was washed up.

And now he’s probably going to get extended by the Braves. Hell, David O’Brien called him the team MVP a couple of days ago and he’s not wrong; may as well run it back. Why not, right? Bring him back another season, if he wants to come back obviously, as insurance if Bethancourt still can’t figure out big-league pitching and to help a pitching staff that seems like its average will be younger than that of many collegiate staffs in 2016. Could be handy to have a veteran around, especially one that played such a prominent role in propping up this putrid offense in 2015.

What to Read

This isn’t really funny and there’s not much to read, but it kind of sums up the Braves season a little bit. Eury Perez was about five combined inches away from bringing back three homers against the Giants on Monday—kinda like the Braves were always just a hit or a player or a stopper in the bullpen away from competitiveness. Anyway, Deadspin has the video.

Stat o’ the Week

It’s been awhile since we looked hard at the stats—or at least since we put them in their own space—and the Braves roster certainly has gotten younger and, probably, worse. And while 24th in baseball with a team non-pitching WAR of 8.1 sounds bad (it is, because Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are worth 6.4 WAR as individuals), but it could be much, much worse.

The Chicago White Sox have 1.1 non-pitcher WAR as a team, which would be the seventh-worse since the turn of the century. Four teams (including the Detroit Tigers in back-to-back seasons) have had negative-Wins Above Replacement from their position guys for a single season, so it could always be worse.

If you only catch one game of the Marlins series, make it…

Jose Fernandez pitches for the Miami Marlins this weekend. Probably Friday. If you don’t remember that he’s our greatest active baseball treasure, please take a few minutes and get re-acclimated.

Complementary Old-Timey Baseball Quote

“He’s even tempered. He comes to the ballpark mad and stays that way.” – Joe Garagiola, on Rick Burleson, SABR Collection

Best performance by a former Brave last week

This is starting to get somewhat repetitive, but Mark Teixiera (five homers, seven runs scored, nine RBI, .389 average) was flat dominant again last week. On the last two days of July, he hit four homers and drove in eight runs, including six in the series-opener against the White Sox (two White Sox references in one column, neither for anything good). Quite the bounce-back season for Tex. Not much more to say. The Yankees old-timers celebration rolls on.


About Colby Wilson

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