The Red Sox didn't spend this offseason with too many major question marks. For the most part, their roster was set, with just a few areas to clear up. One of those was behind the plate, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia spent most of the time in 2013. They decided to pass on re-signing him, and instead opting to take on another veteran in A.J. Pierzynski. He is a man with a reputation, and the move was meant with ire. Now, a week into the season, the fan base is already turning against him. Avoiding conclusions based on small sample sizes is not a new thing. Everyone knows this, but when we have a preconceived ideas of what a player will be, it's easy to turn to small samples as evidence in your favor. Pierzysnki may never be a completely reliable player in 2014, but it's way too early to completely turn your back on the starting catcher.
The 37-year-old has looked especially bad at the plate in the early going. Before last night's three-hit barrage, he was hitting just .125 with no walks and no extra base hits. Even after the three singles in the series opener yesterday, Pierzynski is still hitting just .250, and is still without a walk or an extra base hit. Looking forward, the power is obviously going to be better, and could very well be above-average. It was only two years ago when he posted a remarkable (compared to his career standards) .223 Isolated Power. Even if we assume that's an abberation, he still has a career .145 ISO, and has been above-average in this area for the last two seasons. Clearly it's been a rough first impression at the plate for Pierzynski, but it's not like it's a new experience for us. Just last year, Mike Napoli was struggling through his first five games and people were worried about him. Obviously, that worked out pretty well.
Of course, Napoli and Pierzynski are different types of hitters. The latter's plate discipline has been a major concern early on, and it's a valid one. He doesn't exactly fit into Boston's hitting philosophy. Right now, he's striking out in a quarter of his at bats, which is certainly troubling. He's probably not going to continue at this rate, though. He's not the pinnacle of plate approach, but he's never been one to strike out this much. It's fair to expect he'll drop that rate down to the mid-teens, judging by the rest of his career. He hasn't drawn a walk yet, but this one is something to get used to. He's never been one to walk much, and he probably won't start in his age-37 season. He is the definition of a free-swinger. While the league-average hitter swings at a shade under half of the pitches he sees, Pierzynski has never swung at less than 55 percent of the pitches he's seen, and his career rate 57 percent. This year, though, he's hacking even more, with a swing-rate of 81 percent. It's fair to assume that will come down. Whether it's because of nerves playing for a new team, a random aberration, or something else entirely, he's going to swing less than he is now, even he'll still be frustrating compared to what we're used to when watching the likes of Dustin Pedroia, Daniel Nava and Xander Bogaerts.
It's fine being frustrated by Pierzynski's performance, of course. He's been bad in the season's first week, there's no doubt about it. It's been defensively, too. He's not going to be a black hole behind the dish, but he's never been an overly polished player behind the plate. At the same time, it's not as if there are better options. He's still a better option than Christian Vazquez and Daniel Butler. While both could very well be useful MLB players in the near future, there is much less certainty with them. Vazquez was adjusted well to his first taste of AAA, but, again, it's a very small sample. How is offensive game will translate to the major-league level is still very much an unknown. I will take my chances with the proven commodity every single time in this situation.
A.J. Pierzynski isn't going to be a great player this season. In fact, it's very possible that he'll be the worst regular in Boston's lineup in 2014. With that being said, it doesn't mean that his rocky start to the season should be treated like anything more than an extremely small sample size. He's not going to strike out like he has so far all season, and he's going to eventually draw some power. With the way he plays, we're all going to be frustrated with him at different points this season, but that doesn't mean we should be questioning Pierzynski's place with this team. It's still only April 8th.