Defense of Pierzynski's defense Razor-thin

A.J. Pierzynski celebrates after tagging out Coco Crisp after an attempt steal of home on Friday, May 13.

It's easy to place the blame on A.J. Pierzynski for the fact that opponents have stolen 35 bases in 40 attempts -- or 35 out of 39 for ones that actually required a throw (thank you, Coco Crisp).

It's easy because it's the prime reason.

Sure, Ozzie Guillen tried spreading the blame around:

"We have to get better. How? Well I always say, when you have a guy behind the plate who can throw, it helps," Guillen said. "But I think everything comes with the pitchers. The pitcher holds the guy, quick steps, takes care of the guy at first base it gives the catcher a better chance. It’s no doubt we have to get better because the first month and a half of the season we’re not doing a good job."

[...]

So what is the White Sox’s biggest issue when it comes to slowing down the opposition?

"Just name it, everything," Guillen said. "Sometimes [Alexei Ramirez] catches the ball in front [of the bag], good jumps, bad throws, don’t pay attention to the runners. There are a lot of things that go with that piece and we have to get better."

This is all true to a certain extent, and Guillen is right to try to take the spotlight off Pierzynski's problems, but I think Gavin Floyd's fortunes show where the finger should be pointed in this matter.

Floyd used to be absolutely miserable at holding baserunners, but he has made serious strides in improving this facet of his game. His pickoff move isn't anything special -- it's hard to get that big frame turned counterclockwise in a hurry -- but he compensates quite nicely by varying his timing. Not only is he conscious of changing up how long he holds the ball and how often he checks a runner, but he uses a slide step more often, since he's figured out how to work with it.

Moreover, I learned a new wrinkle while watching Oakland's feed on Saturday. Crisp led off with a single, but the same guy who dared to try tying a game with a straight steal of home on Friday night, couldn't build up the confidence to try stealing second when the A's had all 27 outs left.

When he returned to the dugout after a fielder's choice, the CSN California cameras showed Crisp talking to teammates in the dugout, clasping his hands near his sternum a couple of times. Turns out he was describing the way Floyd comes to a set. He holds his hands higher than most pitchers, and Crisp had trouble picking up when he actually stopped moving.

So in Floyd, we have a pitcher who has worked hard to disrupt the running game, and his numbers prove it...

  • 2007: 12 SB, 0 CS
  • 2008: 37 SB, 5 CS
  • 2009: 14 SB, 4 CS
  • 2010: 7 SB, 4 CS

...except for this season.

  • 2011: 8 SB, 0 CS

It's possible Floyd could have regressed. He's throwing fewer fastballs and more sliders and curves than ever before, so that could contribute to this big step backwards. But checking off the other reasons Guillen provided, Floyd is paying plenty of attention to runners, and the same shortstop is catching the throws at second.

Then you add in the overall success rate of Pierzynski's arm ... then you realize he's no longer catching Jose Contreras and Freddy Garcia, who held baserunners in the same regard as Carl Everett does dinosaurs ... and Occam's Razor tells you where to look. His throws simply run out of gas, and Ramirez probably gets antsy waiting for the throw while the runner comes in.

I don't know what the Sox can do about it. But I know Floyd can't do much more when it comes to holding up his end of the bargain. Throwing more fastballs won't help, because it's his worst pitch.

(Well, OK, it would -- it's a lot harder to steal second when there's a guy already standing on the bag, but I have a feeling "more baserunners" isn't the solution they have in mind.)

I'm pretty sure the Sox know where the fault lies, too. Hell, Pierzynski was working on his technique with Mark Salas a couple of weeks ago. It just doesn't do anybody any good to highlight these problems to the media, because it's a problem they're stuck with for the rest of the year unless injury strikes. We can only hope the White Sox front office doesn't pay similar lip service to the issue going forward.

Star-divide

Maybe it's easy for Pierzynski since he was on the winning side, but I appreciated his comments on Crisp's attempt to steal home. Here's an excerpt, but all of it is worth reading:

"I saw the replay," Pierzynski said before Saturday's game against the A's. "It was a lot closer than I thought it was. I thought he was easily out, but it was a couple inches. It was exciting. Safe or out, that's like the most exciting thing I've ever seen on one single play, just because of all that was involved." [...]

"He's a good player. He takes chances like that with his legs, and he has the ability to pull them off a lot of times," Pierzynski said. "It's fun. It's fun to see guys do that and dare to do stuff that's a little bit outside the box."

And I might've liked Crisp's reaction on Twitter even more:

close but no cigar... Dag nab it! If don't hesitate I'm in there easy smh. I'm so upset! But i would do it again just without hesitating

It's great to see anybody in baseball -- from the owners to the peanut vendors -- trying to use whatever resources they have in unorthodox ways if there's good reason behind it. This comes up a lot when I talk about bullpens and closers, but it's equally pertinent here.

Crisp is a great baserunner, and he had Thornton measured up for the last 90 feet. Fortunately for the Sox, straight-stealing home isn't something that Crisp can commit to muscle memory. He didn't execute it perfectly, whereas Thornton and Pierzynski couldn't have reacted any better. Crisp comes out looking kinda nuts for trying it, but the result was a near enough miss to justify the attempt. It takes world-class talent to play in the majors, and it's great when we get to watch them trust it.

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