Monday, December 28, 2009

In Defense of Juan Pierre

I just read an article by Sky Andrecheck on concerning the worst contracts in MLB.

For the most part I concur with Andrecheck's list. Vernon Wells, Barry Zito and Alfonso Soriano have proven to be a monetary albatross on the fortunes of the Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs, respectively.

But I am puzzled by the inclusion of newly acquired Chicago White Sox outfielder Juan Pierre. The veteran outfielder is owed $18.5 million over the next two years although a majority of that will be paid by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Andrecheck writes:

Everyone loves a .300-hitting speedster who is one of the biggest basestealing threats in the game. At least that's what the Dodgers were thinking when they signed Pierre. Unfortunately, that .300-hitting speedster can be a pretty bad player if he hits with absolutely no power and rarely takes a walk. Especially when he plays left field, an offensive position. According to OPS+, Pierre has been a league-average hitter or better just twice in his career (last year and in 2004). Considering that defensive metrics have him at just an average defensive left fielder, Pierre certainly isn't worth the money he's owed. Add in the fact that Pierre was unhappy being a fourth outfielder, and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti had to move him.

It is true that Pierre is no power hitter. But that's hardly breaking news. I don't think the Dodgers were expecting him to hit more than 3 home runs a season. Pierre has hit 13 home runs in 10 big league seasons. It is also true that Pierre rarely draws a walk. But it is also true that Pierre rarely strikes out. While Pierre has only walked 340 times in his big league career he has also only struck out 337 times against MLB pitching. Between 2001 and 2007, Pierre was the toughest batter to strike out in the NL in five of those seasons. Put simply Pierre puts the ball in play.

Of course, Pierre is unhappy being a fourth outfielder. Curiously, Andrecheck makes no mention of the arrival of Manny Ramirez who severely curtailed Pierre's playing time. Pierre played in all 162 games between 2003 and 2007 and would have continued to do so if not Ramirez' arrival in July 2008. Given the injuries speedy outfielders are prone to in their knees, hamstrings, quads and Achilles' tendons it's amazing that Pierre is so durable. Aside from a stint on the DL in 2008, Pierre has been remarkably reliable for the teams with which he's played.

O.K., Pierre only walks 35-40 times a year. So what? He has collected 200 or more hits four times. In 2004 and 2006, it was good enough to lead the NL. Between 2001 and 2007, Pierre either led in the NL in stolen bases or came in second. Even with his limited playing time in 2008 and 2009, Pierre still finished 5th in the NL in steals. Yes, he does get caught stealing a lot but he's no rally killer. It's the price one sometimes pays for aggressive baserunning.

As for 2010, put Pierre down for 162 games, 185 hits, 90 runs scored, 50 stolen bases and a .300 average. If he can put up those numbers look for the White Sox to make the post-season in 2010. Of course, Pierre won't be the only player responsible for that but he would set the table big enough to fit several cases of champagne.

I think Andrecheck is one of those baseball writers who places way too much emphasis on OBP, OPS and OPS +. Those stats aren't without merit but they don't tell the whole story. Far from it.

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