A.J. Pierzynski is often called a world-class agitator. He loves the limelight. When it comes to intelligence, the White Sox' 33-year-old catcher has few peers in the game.
Pierzynski is a lot of different things to different people, but as he showed again last season, he is still a darn good baseball player.
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Where we rank the top catchers:
1. Joe Mauer, Twins
2. Victor Martinez, Red Sox
3. Kurt Suzuki, A's
4. A.J. PIERZYNSKI, WHITE SOX
"You look at the number of games he plays every season, the numbers he puts up ... he's pretty much the whole package," first baseman Paul Konerko said of Pierzynski.
That he is, and for the sentimentalists Pierzynski - along with Konerko, starting pitchers Mark Buehrle and Freddy Garcia and closer Bobby Jenks - is one of the few remaining players from the Sox' 2005 World Series championship team.
"I can't believe it's been five years already since that happened," Pierzynski said. "But at the same time, it's 2010 and we're ready to go and ready to do it again."
Are all of the years and innings catching up to Pierzynski? Even at age 33, the numbers suggest otherwise.
Dating back to 1955, Pierzynski is the only catcher in White Sox history to log at least 1,000 innings behind the plate in five straight seasons.
And over the last nine seasons, he leads the major leagues with 1,139 games caught.
Is this his last season in a Sox uniform? Pierzynski appears to be in a spot similar to Jermaine Dye a season ago.
Entering the final year of his contract, Dye tore it up in the first half of 2009 but tailed way off after the all-star break and wasn't offered a new deal.
Pierzynski is three years younger, but there is much more wear and tear at his position.
If he puts up good numbers, Pierzynski will likely be back for at least one more season.
Can he still put up good numbers? In 2009, Pierzynski became the first White Sox catcher in history to bat .300, so the obvious answer is yes.
How does A.J. rate defensively? He has taken a beating in recent seasons for allowing opposing base stealers to run wild, but much of the blame should go to pitchers such as Gavin Floyd, Jose Contreras, Jenks and Octavio Dotel for failing to hold runners on base.
The Sox finally addressed the issue last year and Pierzynski ended up throwing out 16.8 percent (20-for-119) of runners trying to steal. That's still not very good, but much better than his 10.3 percent success rate in 2008.
Where does he hit in the lineup? Pierzynski is an outstanding contact hitter, and he struck out just 52 times in 504 at-bats last season.
That's why the White Sox have used Pierzynski in the No. 2 spot, but the left-hander is better suited batting fifth or sixth because he has decent power (13 HR last year) and a knack for coming through with runners in scoring position.
What's up with Tyler Flowers? He is still Pierzynski's heir apparent behind the plate, but the 24-year-old catcher is likely headed for a full season at Class AAA Charlotte.
That's why the White Sox re-signed backup Ramon Castro for one more year.
Flowers was with the Sox last September and showed he still needs polish while striking out eight times in 16 at-bats.
This spring, Flowers was 1-for-5 heading into Sunday's Cactus League game against the Reds. But the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder is showing some progress with 4 walks and 1 strikeout.