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Slowing down the running game still starts with Pierzynski

Mark Buehrle won't be able to help prop up A.J. Pierzynski's defensive numbers.
Mark Buehrle won't be able to help prop up A.J. Pierzynski's defensive numbers.

It's fun having a new manager in town from an educational perspective, if only because fresh leadership inevitably reveals what the previous regime did or didn't do in contrast.

Usually the comparisons are made in a subtle fashion (Robin Ventura running his camp, for example), and often times they're more observational than judgmental. But there's little that's subtle about A.J. Pierzynski, and he dropped a potentially revelatory quote about Ozzie Guillen's leadership in a story about the White Sox's renewed efforts to stop the running game:

"We have the ability to be very good at it," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "Over the past couple years — especially me in general — we've taken a beating for something we never cared about. (The previous coaching staff) just didn't care about it. They had other things to worry about, and it's refreshing and it's nice to know that it's a high priority and it's something we're going to try to do.

"We've talked about this before. It takes three people to stop the baserunning — the pitcher, the catcher and whoever is covering second base. It's something we needed to work on. It cost us runs in the past and hopefully with the work we're putting in, it will help once the games start."

Alas, any story that has Pierzynski as the primary source can't be taken at face value, because he's like the unreliable narrator in a Randy Newman song. Objective evaluation is not his strong suit -- he grades himself extremely easily while occasionally shifting blame onto others, and in this case, it's always easy to blame people who are no longer around. And it also has to be tempting considering one of those people (Ozzie Guillen) called out Pierzynski for pointing fingers and told him to wear his terrible caught-stealing percentage last year.

It was one of Guillen's few redeeming moments in 2011, and more meaningful than usual since he covered for Pierzynski earlier in the season.

From watching the White Sox and then watching other teams .. well, the problem very much starts with Pierzynski. His throws just don't get there. White Sox pitchers aren't awesome at holding runners, and sometimes Alexei Ramirez fails to help him with a close call, but Pierzynski's throws simply take a loftier trajectory compared to other catchers.

I look at Gavin Floyd as the litmus test. He slide-steps and varies his timing to the point that it seems like he's paying too much attention to the runners. In 2010, he held runners to just seven steals in 11 attempts. In 2011, they ran wild on him, swiping 23 bases in 25 tries. Pierzynski, of course, thinks Floyd still doesn't do enough.

I'm sure Pierzynski's defensive stats are a sore spot for him, and given how Pierzynski can't control everything about caught-stealing rate, he would probably appreciate as much help as possible. However, the available evidence suggests the ceiling for improvement is a low one. They might already be bumping up against it.

Times isn't on Pierzynski's side. Hoping a 35-year-old can improve his defense at any position is asking for the impossible (Jermaine Dye in right field, for instance), and now we're talking about a catcher to boot. Even if he were the type to take the bullet, I don't think that would help the Sox truly turn the tables on the opposition.

But it certainly doesn't inspire faith if Pierzynski is as unaccountable as his public quotes indicate. He needs to buy into the solutions more than anybody. Otherwise, the root of the problem will remain untreated.