By reportedly signing A.J. Pierzynski the Red Sox have all but guaranteed that Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the team's primary catcher for the past three seasons, will be playing elsewhere in 2014. Nearly nine years older than Saltalamacchia, Pierzynski a former member of the Twins, Giants, White Sox and Rangers, will be 37 years old at the start of what will be his 17th big league season.
Pierzynski ranked just ahead of Saltalamacchia in home runs (5th and 6th) and RBIs (4th and 5th) among American League catchers last season and had virtually the same batting average (.272 for Pierzynski to .273 for Salty), but a comparison of the two over the past two seasons gives a little more insight into why the Red Sox might have made this move, despite the dramatic difference in age.
Since the start of 2012 Saltalamacchia has higher slugging and on base percentages than Pierzynski, but when it comes to clutch situations Pierzynski has been much more productive, with a higher slash line across the board than Saltalamacchia with runners in scoring position while nearly doubling Salty's slugging percentage with RISP and two outs. Saltalamacchia was also a victim of strikeouts a staggering 278 times which means that he struck out in a full third of his at bats. Pierzynski is the complete opposite, owning a career at bat-to-strikeout ratio of 8.1, which ranks in the top 20 among active batters. In fact Saltalamacchia struck out nearly as many times in 2013 (139) as Pierzynski did in 2012 and 2013 combined (154)—and those were Pierzynski's two highest strikeout totals of his career.
Behind the plate Pierzynski is among the better defensive catchers in the AL, having thrown out 33% of the runners who tried stealing against him last season, compared to just 23% for Saltalamacchia. He has also committed just two errors last year compared to Saltalamacchia's six.
With catching prospects Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez moving up through the Red sox system, Ben Cherington didn't want to give a long term deal to a catcher who had questions defensively and at the plate and with that in mind, the Sox couldn't have done much better than they did, signing a top-notch backstop who still has some gas in the tank.
Here's how some key stats compare over the past two seasons for Saltalamacchia and Pierzynski.
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