White Sox

A.J. Pierzynski is really good at preventing runs

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A.J. Pierzynski is really good at preventing runs

A few weeks ago, Tony Andracki and I sparked a debate when we chose Geovany Soto over A.J. Pierzynski on our all-Chicago team of the 2000's. Our reasoning was as follows: Soto's the better offensive and defensive catcher, while Pierzynski wins in the realm of incalculable intangibles. His handling of a pitching staff -- which has earned rave reviews -- fell into that intangible category.

But thanks to the research of Baseball Prospectus' Max Marchi, Pierzynski's ability to handle a pitching staff has been quantified. And it's very impressive.

Since 1948, only five catchers have been better at preventing runs from scoring than Pierzynski. That may seem off, since he's never rated well as a defensive catcher. In fact, one rating system pegged him as the fourth-worst in baseball last year, taking into account throwingfielding errors, caught stealings, wild pitches and passed balls.

So Pierzynski's ranking on the Baseball Prospectus list is telling as to just how good he is at handling a pitching staff. Ahead of Pierzynski on the list: Tony Pena, Mike Scioscia, Javy Lopez, Mike Piazza and Carlton Fisk. That's impressive company. Piazza was a much better defensive catcher (especially at blocking pitches in the dirt) than people remember, while Pena, Scioscia and Fisk were all good-to-elite defensive catchers in their own right.

But here's where things get interesting: Javy Lopez never rated as a good defensive catcher, at least by the usual caught stealingball in dirt metrics. In fact, per FanGraphs' defensive values behind the plate, he rates as 15 runs below average for his career. Pierzynski rates as -16 runs below average by the same standard.

So could the fact that Lopez and Pierzynski were blessed to play for two of the best pitching coaches in baseball -- Leo Mazzone and Don Cooper -- have anything to do with the ranking?

Probably, but the extent of Cooper's influence on Pierzynski may not be as great as we think. Marchi looked at the top 10 managers who most helped their pitchers and catchers, and Ozzie Guillen -- who had Cooper as his pitching coach for every one of his eight years with the Sox -- didn't make the cut.

And Pierzynski's ability to prevent runs over his career didn't all stem from his days with the Twins and Giants -- over the last three years, only Jose Molina has prevented more runs behind the plate than Pierzynski, per Marchi's analysis.

So perhaps it's time we re-think our stance on Pierzynski. Nobody's going to confuse him with Yadier Molina defensively, but maybe we need to stop looking at him solely in terms of defense. Because when you factor in his ability to prevent runs with his handling of the pitching staff, Pierzynski is one of the best.

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday marked the first surprise of White Sox spring training, courtesy of first baseman Jose Abreu.

“This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases,” Abreu said through a translator.

This might have sounded like a joke, but Abreu was completely serious.

On paper, he’s not exactly Rickey Henderson. In 614 career games, Abreu has only six stolen bases. However, the slimmed-down first baseman does have some sneaky speed. His six triples last season ranked third in the American League. So there are some wheels to work with.

“I like the challenge. I think that’s a good challenge for me. I’m ready for it,” Abreu said.

How many steals are we talking about? A reporter asked sarcastically if a 30-30 season is in the offing? Abreu didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility.

“Who knows? When you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them,” Abreu said. “The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. If you fill your mind with good things, good things are going to happen.”

The morning began with Abreu walking to the hitting cages with his Cuban compadres Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who the White Sox signed last summer. He held his first workout on Sunday. At the White Sox hitters camp last month, Moncada took Robert under his wing, showing him the ropes, even telling Ricky Renteria, “I got him.”

But Sunday, Abreu was in charge, holding court with the three of them in the cage. Abreu watched closely as Robert hit off a tee, giving him pointers about his swing.

“I just like to help people,” Abreu said. “When I started to play at 16 in Cuba, I had a lot people who hounded me to get better. At the same point, I want to give back things that I’ve learned and pass that along to other people. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not expecting anything else. I’m just glad to help them and get them better.”

What kind of advice has he passed along to Robert?

“Since I came to this country, I learned quickly three keys to be a success: Be disciplined, work hard and always be on time. If you apply those three keys, I think you’re going to be good. Those are the three keys I’m trying to teach the new kids, the young guys,” Abreu said.

Abreu lost about 10 pounds during the offseason. He said he hopes to learn more English in 2018. He also arrived at spring training sporting a scruffy beard which he grew while he was in Cuba so he “could be incongnito.”

Abreu likes his new look. Moncada thinks he should shave it off.

“If the organization doesn’t say anything, I’m just going to keep it,” Abreu said.

Well, so much for that.

Moments after Abreu spoke with the media, Renteria told reporters that Abreu will have to “clean it up a bit.”

The two will find a compromise. Come to think of it, maybe Abreu and the White Sox should do the same about a contract extension in the near future.

Yes, he’ll be 33 when his contract expires in two years, but there have been no signs of a decline with his performance. Instead, Abreu is only getting better both offensively and defensively.

Heck, now he wants to steal bases, too.

After Renteria, Abreu is the leader of this team. He commands ultimate respect inside the clubhouse. He’s become another coach to Moncada, Robert and others. He’s a huge brick in the present and too big of an influence and cornerstone to not have around in the future.

“I hope to play my entire career in the majors with the White Sox,” Abreu said Sunday. “But I can’t control that.”

At some point, a decision will have to be made whether to keep Abreu or trade him. In the meantime, ask yourself this question: What will bring more value to the White Sox, getting a high-end prospect or two in return not knowing if they’ll ever succeed in the majors? Or keeping your best player, the heart and soul of your team, allowing him to show your future stars the way while they’re developing in the major leagues?

Seems like an easy decision to me.