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  • Former Twins Cooperstown Case: AJ Pierzynski


    Cody Christie

    AJ Pierzynski is infamous in Twins Territory for a variety of reasons. But does that mean he has the resume needed to make the Hall of Fame?

    Image courtesy of Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

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    The Twins selected A.J. Pierzynski in the third round of the 1994 MLB Draft out of high school in Florida. He spent the next seven seasons working his way through the Twins system by hitting .288/.324/.415 (.739). His minor league batting line was almost identical to what he produced in his 19-year big–league career. 

    In 1998, he spent time at Double- and Triple-A when he was only 21 years old. He was over five and a half years younger than the average age of the competition at Triple-A. Pierzynski got on base over 30% of the time and posted a .709 OPS. He got a brief September call-up that season and went 3-for-10 in 13 plate appearances. He got another brief taste of the MLB level in 1999, but he was limited to fewer than 80 games that season. 

    The 2000 season became Pierzynski’s rookie campaign after posting an .819 OPS at Double- and Triple-A. He was called up in mid-August and took over the full-time catching duties. In 33 games, he hit .307/.354/.455 with eight extra-base hits. Minnesota had a solid young core, and Pierzynski looked to be part of the long-term solution. 

    Over the next three seasons, Pierzynski played 114 games or more as the Twins returned to relevance from the brink of contraction. In his 430 games with the Twins, he hit .301/.341/.447, and he was named an All-Star in 2002. During the 2002 ALDS, he went 4-for-16 with a home run and a triple to help the Twins upset the Moneyball Oakland A’s. That series was the last time the Twins won a postseason series. 

    Following the 2003 season, the Twins traded AJ Pierzynski to the Giants in one of the most famous trades in franchise history. Joe Mauer was widely considered baseball’s best prospect, and he was coming off a tremendous season at Double-A. Pierzynski’s value was likely at its highest point as he was coming off a season where he posted an .824 OPS with 49 extra-base hits. Pierzynski’s career took a dramatic turn from that point forward. 

    His Giants tenure didn’t last long as he posted a .729 OPS in 131 games, but he became a distraction to the team. San Francisco released him following the season, and the White Sox were happy to pick him up. He’d play eight seasons in Chicago as he helped the club win the 2005 World Series in his first year on the team. His lone Silver Slugger and his second All-Star selection came with Chicago. 

    For his career, Pierzynski hit .300 or higher in four different seasons, and he appeared in the ninth most games as a catcher. He is one of 10 players in baseball history who has played a minimum of 50 percent of his games at catcher while reaching at least 2,000 hits. Defensively, he led his league in fielding percentage in three different seasons. In October, he was part of eight Postseason series and hit .292 with 18 RBI and 11 walks in 32 games.

    Pierzynski’s Cooperstown case is tied significantly to his longevity. According to JAWS, Pierzynski is the 71st ranked catcher in baseball history, putting him behind names like Benito Santiago, Jason Varitek, and Carlos Ruiz. According to Baseball-Reference Similarity Scores, Yadier Molina is the most similar batter to Pierzynski and Molina is on pace for the Hall of Fame. However, Molina is one of the all-time best defensive catchers. 

    Pierzynski was a durable player at one of baseball’s most demanding positions, but his credentials likely fall short of induction. Do you think Pierzynski deserves to be more than a one-and-done on the ballot? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    AJ probably deserves to be in a Hall of Fame somewhere, it just isn't in Cooperstown.

    Pierzynski holds the AL record for consecutive errorless chances with 962.

    On June 13, 2012, Pierzynski was rated the most hated MLB player.

    In September 2021, A.J. was inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame in Troy, Michigan.

    AJ1.jpg

    Ron Kulpa: "ya know Pierznooski, you got a real mouth on ya."

    AJ: "Yeah, whatever dude. I know 3 blind mice who have a better strike zone than yours."

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    When I first saw headline I thought no way, but when you lay out his career and everything, I think he very well does deserve it.  He will not make it for a couple of reasons though.  One, he is not know to be a likable guy, which gives voters a negative view of him.  The other reason, is he never was considered the best during his time, but he was always very good.  He held up at catcher much longer than many do, and despite not being a huge threat on offense due to not high power numbers he was still never a fun guy to face.  In the era of pitch counts he would have double digit pitch at-bats from time to time.  He was always just steady but never wowed anyone.  If you compare his numbers to many catchers he is better than most.  I am not sure if he will make past year 1, unless people really take time to look at him.

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    His case is better than the other profiled ex-Twins.  He is not good enough for the Hall, but he is good enough that he should get multiple years of consideration.  He is much better than most people credit him.  Just imagine if we would have had Pierzynski and Mauer together - Garver and Jeffers is not close to either.  

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    I think he's one-and-done, but thanks for laying out his bona fides. I'd forgotten how good he was, and for how long. Without Mauer in the pipeline, he would likely have been a Twin for a long time. I remember him developing a rep as a player with a chip on his shoulder; that never helps considerations for the Hall. Though he repaired the image, he rubbed too many voters the wrong way and doesn't have the stats to overcome that rep.

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    No, he is boarder line hall of very good. He had 2 AS appearances over 19 years with only one year of  WAR over 4 (4.5). He was durable yes and played average offence over his career with good defense. Now I am not necessarily a small hall kind of guy, but even for a big hall he doesn't make the cut. 


    For reference AJ career 23.8 WAR in 19 years
    Yadier Molina 42.1 WAR in 18 years
    Joe Mauer 55.2WAR in 15 years 

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    Feels like a similar case for Jason Kendall. When you look closely, his case is stronger than you would have expected, but still well short of any reasonable Cooperstown standard.  And probably the same result as Kendall, one-and-done. 
    I lean more “big hall” but I am not interested in lowering the bar to the point where every above-average player who hung around for a while gets in.  

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    When you state by JAWS he ranks currently 71 with maybe only Grandal among the current catchers likely to pass him the answer is there might be 10 other players up for election voters will choose before him. His chance is very slim.  He needs about 20 votes

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    I guess I always have thought of him as a quality offensive catcher but had forgotten just how good until I read the OP. He was always quality behind the plate and tough as nails.

    He was one of those "redass" players that you love on your team but hated to play against. (Not sure tobthis day exactly why he fit so poorly with the Giants). I think he was VERY GOOD and undervalued in large, but I don't think he's HOF worthy.

    Note: The Twins had a game of the day I watched  late in the year on the MLB app in which he was the color man and found him enjoyable to listen to.

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    11 hours ago, mikelink45 said:

    His case is better than the other profiled ex-Twins.  He is not good enough for the Hall, but he is good enough that he should get multiple years of consideration.  He is much better than most people credit him.  Just imagine if we would have had Pierzynski and Mauer together - Garver and Jeffers is not close to either.  

    I'm in the multiple years of consideration boat myself. I loved him because he tended to piss the opponents off but his teammates seemed OK with him. You never had to worry that he put his heart and soul into the game. 

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    13 hours ago, DocBauer said:

    I guess I always have thought of him as a quality offensive catcher but had forgotten just how good until I read the OP. He was always quality behind the plate and tough as nails.

    He was one of those "redass" players that you love on your team but hated to play against. (Not sure tobthis day exactly why he fit so poorly with the Giants). I think he was VERY GOOD and undervalued in large, but I don't think he's HOF worthy.

    Note: The Twins had a game of the day I watched  late in the year on the MLB app in which he was the color man and found him enjoyable to listen to.

    When he was traded to Giants I said he will have problems there.  When he went to Sox, I said dang he will do well there.  The Giants were a team of old school vets lead by an old school manager that was all about business.  For the most part, none of them like each other, I remember hearing Bonds was terrible teammate and Jeff Kent was hard to get along with too.  A.J. was the type of guy that liked to push buttons of people, and so when he is on a business team and not a lets have fun team, he could not be himself. 

    When he went to Sox, they were much more be yourself, have fun, team kind of set up.  At least that is how I saw them compared to Giants.  I have long said in baseball chemistry and getting along with your team is very important for success.  I say this because in a normal year, you hope to spend every day with your team from mid-February to November.  When about half your off-days are on the road even then you have little time away from team.  If you do not like your team, you will start to hate working every day, and then you head is not in the game.  I feel that may have been what happened with AJ in San Fran. 

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    Good career.   .301 with the twins over 6 years and big cog in the resurgence of the Twins in 2002 and 2003.   Also got us Boof, Nathan and Liriano so kind of deserves to be in the Twins HOF.  No chance for the other one.   One of my favorite clips was when he was with the White Sox and framed the fastball that hit dirt 10 feet short and bounced knee high over the middle of the plate.

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    If Pierzynski gets more than a one and done,  then Mauer is a shoe-in.  I think Mauer will get in eventually,  but he will have to wait a few years.  Sorry A.J.  I liked you as a player, just not HOF caliber.

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