What is with the Chicago teams and their bizarre top of the order lineup decisions? First the Cubs want Alfonso Soriano to lead off and now the White Sox intend to bat A.J. Pierzynski in the two-hole. There must be something in the water in the Windy City. Whatever the case may be, we have definitely found our Bad Spring Training Decision of the Day.
One the surface, this questionable lineup choice is just another classic example of a manager failing to appreciate on-base percentage. And that is a very big problem for Pierzynski batting second since A.J.’s career OBP is just .324 and only once in his career has he posted an OBP better than .334 in a season. The real issue is the reasoning brand spanking new, wet-behind-the-ears manager Robin Ventura is using to justify this decision. I’ll let him explain:
“He’s always a tough out, not that he steals a lot of bases but he handles the bat and does the appropriate things. He’s one of those guys who will hook it if you have to or put it the other way if they shift on him. Right now I like him right there.”
I’m willing to buy the flimsy “he’s a tough out statement.” A.J. seldom strikes out and has always been regarded as one of the premier pests in the league, though that is more about his mouth than his bat. What I am not willing to buy is that “handles the bat” statement.
Handling the bat is just manager speak for being a good situational hitter, suggesting that A.J. is the ideal guy to move runners along and avoid rally-killing scenarios, scenarios like grounding into double plays. As it turns out, A.J. loves him some GIDPs. He’s rolled into 175 doubleplays over his career with at least 10 each year since he entered the league and at least 17 the last three seasons. Part of that has to do with him being a lead-footed catcher, but the rest is just that he isn’t really anything special as a situational batter. Good situational hitters should display a knack for improving the team’s run scoring opportunities even when they make an out. A.J., however, makes productive outs in only 35% of his career plate appearances, which is marginally better than the league average of 33%. There just isn’t anything in his profile to suggest that he is particularly well-suited for this assignment.
For most teams, this would be just a minor concern; but with manager Robin Ventura having literally no managerial experience, this proposal has to inspire a certain degree of trepidation amonst the White Sox faithful. Ventura may just be trying to turn lemons into lemonade her since he doesn’t have a great deal to work with on offense but this move tastes pretty bitter right now. I suppose he should get some points for trying to be creative, but I reserve the right to revoke those points if he doesn’t pull the plug on this experiment when (and I do mean when) it becomes obvious that it was ill-conceived.