On Juan Pierre

I'm watching the Nationals/Astros game on MLB.TV right now. The announcers mentioned that Dodgers' CF Juan Pierre is on a nine game hit streak right now. They went on to discuss his speed on the bases  and potentional to be one of the great base stealers of the game. I remember times when the speedster was a revered CF. He was a spark plug on the 2003 World Series Champion Florida Marlins team, coming in 10th in the series' MVP voting. He commanded a huge contract this past off-season with the Dodgers. This all got me thinking about a comment I made in a post earlier today about Pierre's "underachieving bat". I wondered about whether or not my statement was fair, so I decided to take a closer look at Pierre's stats and how he's being received in Los Angeles lately.

Courtesy of Baseball-Reference, here is Pierre's line so far this season:

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG
93 391 59 112 13 4 0 23 38 9 16 24 .286 .316 .340

Out in the field, Pierre has a .987 average, with 1 assist and 3 errors.

We've past the mid-point of the season, so we can look back and ask: is this performance worth a $44 million, 5-year contract? Hmm.

When the Dodgers announced the signing, there was plenty of protest. Rich Lederer wrote these comments at The Baseball Analysts:

Pierre has led the league in hits in two of the past three seasons, but he has also finished in the top two in outs in each of the last four campaigns. The hits are nice. The outs are painful. As a lead-off hitter who plays everyday and doesn't walk or strike out much, he gets plenty of both.

The bottom line is that Pierre is one of the most overrated players in the game. He was first-team All-OOPs in 2006 and second-team All-OOPs in 2005. Pierre can still run and, in fact, has finished first or second in stolen bases in every full season of his career. He can chase down fly balls but his arm is well below average, making him nothing more than a passable center fielder.

Why the Dodgers would ink Pierre to a long-term deal is beyond me. Not only do they have Matt Kemp in waiting but re-signing Kenny Lofton for one year could give the team almost everything Pierre can (albeit in 25 or so fewer games) for a lot less money. 

Pierre doesn't hit for power, and that's no surprise. The Dodgers knew they'd still have to add power following the Pierre signing.

The low OBP is probably Pierre's biggest problem. Your leadoff hitter simply has to get on base.

Tim Brown at Yahoo! Sports wrote last month:

Juan Pierre is not a good leadoff hitter, capable center fielder or wise investment. He's not a winner. He doesn't hit for power and he doesn't get on base. He takes odd routes in the outfield and, when he and the Dodgers are lucky, covers the mistakes with speed. He throws poorly. 

When center fielders Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones and Ichiro Suzuki come on the market, the Dodgers will have four more years of Pierre. When Matt Kemp is ready to play a big-league center field, the Dodgers will have 3½ more years of Pierre.

It's a no-brainer that Pierre is overpaid, but despite his weaknesses, he can still provide value to the right team. In a recent post, I referenced a trade scenario that would see Griffey head to the Angels and Gary Matthews Jr. to the Dodgers, leaving Pierre out in the cold. Hypothetically speaking, this could work out as a 3-way trade, with Pierre going to Cincinnati. The Reds would lose power and OBP (Griffey's sporting a .393 OBP), but they'd be adding speed, getting comparible fielding and shaving a few years off the age of the outfield. Perhaps the Dodgers could throw in Ethier or Kemp to balance that out.

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