With AJ Pierzynski leaving the White Sox and agreeing to a deal with the Texas Rangers on Thursday, it’s real easy to reflect back on AJ’s time in Chicago. As the team’s main backstop for eight seasons, AJ gave White Sox fans countless memories.
The dropped third-strike against the Angels in the 2005 playoffs, his walk-off home run on throwback day in 2005 against the Dodgers, and of course, taking Michael Barrett’s punch an igniting the crowd against the Cubs in 2006, are just three of many things that come to mind when I think of AJ’s White Sox tenure.
However, his time has come and gone, and even though AJ had a career year in 2012, the guard at catcher has changed to Tyler Flowers. His young White Sox career has been somewhat polarizing, as it seems as if people appreciate him as a power threat or see him as the second coming of Joe Borchard. Like any prospect, we’ll never know what he can do until he gets a full-time starting role at the major league level. After four years in the White Sox system, the time has finally come for Tyler.
The reason why back in the winter of 2008 the White Sox sent Javier Vazquez to Atlanta for a package centered on Tyler Flowers was of his huge power ability. Hawk Harrelson has called Tyler Flowers “country strong” numerous times, and that really is about as accurate of a description as you could give: the man is just naturally strong. He also has pretty nice swing mechanics.
It’s easy to see that he certainly has the ability to hit 20-plus home runs in a full-time role, and it will be interesting to see how consistently that power materializes now that he will most likely be playing every day. Another good attribute, and one that’s probably been overlooked a great deal, his is defensive prowess.
He has a terrific arm, throwing out 33.3 percent of base-stealers last season (tied for 11th in the MLB, minimum 40 games played). Also, the White Sox and their pitching staff believe that Flowers calls a very good game. Pierzynski was arguably the best at baseball in managing the pitching staff, and he will be tough to replace. However, Flowers did a good job of this last season himself, and learning under AJ for a full season in 2012 could go a long way in helping Flowers this coming season, as Hawk Harrelson pointed out on “The Score” on Friday.
Flowers has been polarizing for a reason, however, and the biggest reason for that is his inability to hit for average. In his MLB career, Flowers has hit for just a .205 clip, which rarely earns anyone a chance at a starting role. However, he has shown the ability to hit for average at the lower levels, as from 2006-2009, he never hit below .275 between rookie ball and AAA. Given that, the case could be made that playing every day might be just what Flowers needs to increase that average.
What has always been with Flowers, though, is his high K-rate. Last season, Flowers struck out 36.6 percent of the time. To put that in perspective, Adam Dunn, who finished last season just one strikeout shy of the single-season record, had a K-rate of 34.2 percent. Given that and the fact that Flowers doesn't really walk all that much likely means a great deal of unproductive outs. Also, he will be hitting at the bottom of the order with Dayan Viciedo, Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham: all right-handed, unproductive out-type hitters.
Having four guys in a row with that quality doesn't seem like a good lineup make-up. With all of that said, the jury really still is out on Flowers. Maybe all he really does need is a chance to play every day for him to get in a rhythm like he was at the lower levels. What Sox fans should expect, though, is good defense and someone who will do a nice job managing the pitching staff. After all, that really is the main role of a starting catcher.