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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Picking on Pierre

I just couldn't let this article on the Dodger's Juan Pierre pass by. It starts off like so:

What is it about the on-base percentage that a player like Juan Pierre -- who leads the Dodgers in at-bats, runs scored, hits, stolen bases, triples and games played -- gets knocked for not having his higher than .350?

Pierre has been one of the most consistent players in the Dodgers lineup this season. He plays every day (395 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the Majors), makes diving catches in center field on a regular basis and steals second just about every time he gets on base, yet his OBP evidently isn't cutting it.

Essentially, the author is arguing that acquiring playing time, and thus the opportunity to rack up those counting stats, automatically means you're a good hitter. Omar Moreno, playing in all 162 games for the Pirates in 1980 also led his team in all those categories including walks. In the end though he was 9 runs below average offensively because in addition to accumulating 87 runs scored, 13 triples, and 96 stolen bases, he made 551 outs. Yes, 551. Last year for the Cubs Pierre was also 9 runs below average while playing in all 162 games and made 526 outs. This season he's 8 runs below average and has made almost 400 outs.

While there is certainly a strong link between playing time and offensive performance and being able to stay on the field is in itself valuable, in Pierre's case the perception of performance is apparently what counts.

This season, Pierre leads the Dodgers with 147 hits. He is fifth in the NL with 45 multi-hit games, he leads the Majors with 14 sacrifice bunts and he's second in the Majors only to Jose Reyes with 50 stolen bases, and yet his OBP supposedly isn't cutting it.

Well. Multi-hit games are heavily dependant on playing time, sacrifice bunts are nothing to brag about, and while his 50 stolen bases against only 9 caught stealing is very good, historically he's a break even base stealer at best.

In 2003 and 2004 with the Marlins Pierre was an above average offensive player to the tune of 10 and 14 runs respectively. In those seasons his OBP was a healthy .361 and .374 (he also had a .378 OBP for the Rockies in 2001 but was still 3 runs below average in the pre-humidor era). The reason of course is that as Pierre himself explains:

When I'm hitting good, my on-base percentage is high and that's just the way it is. The Dodgers knew that before I came here. It is what it is. I just go out there and play the game, and I don't get caught up in all of this.

Indeed, in those three season his batting averages were .305, .326, and .327. The problem is that what the Dodgers should have paid attention to is that Pierre hadn't cracked .300 since 2004 and going into his age 29 season it wasn't exactly likely he would revert to his form as a 23 through 26 year-old.

In order to justify his low OBP the author makes much of his ability to disrupt the pitcher and comes up with this quote from Grady Little.

He's a disruptive force when he's on base. The other team has to be concerned with him regularly and it disrupts the pitcher.

Unfortunately for the Dodgers there is little evidence and in fact there is some evidence to the contrary as documented in The Book that "disruptive" baserunners tend to disrupt the batter more than the defense.

Where the author should have focused perhaps was on Pierre's other contributions on the bases. Since 2000 in my four baserunning metrics he's a positive 27.9 runs making his biggest contribution in advancing on hits to the tune of 18.6 runs. When you add those 27 runs to his total runs above average he comes out 1 run to the good. In other words, offensively over the past almost eight seasons he's been average. Unfortunately, his ledger was heavily stacked in 2003 and 2004 and so in the other six seasons he's been below average.

On the other side of the coin he's also been a below average defender since 2004 and his lack of arm strength is well known. Contrasted with Omar Moreno, who had a monster year with the glove to the tune of saving 17 run over average in 1980 and who was an above average defender until his latter days with the Yankees, Pierre doesn't stack up very well.

Don't get me wrong. When Pierre was with the Cubs I enjoyed watching him play and was a little sad to see him go (but not enough to wish the Cubs had signed him at that price tag of course).

Finally, the author sums up his point by saying...

Whether his OBP is at .324 or .350, Pierre will continue to do the small things for the Dodgers. He bunts, he steals bases, he legs out triples and robs balls in the outfield, yet he'll constantly be scrutinized because he doesn't get on base enough -- that's just the way it's going to be.

And that's just the problem. The things he can do are indeed small things and when he doesn't get on base those small things simply aren't enough to compensate for the big things like power which he does not posses.

He's an exciting player to watch no doubt about it. Just don't pretend that he's a plus offensively when at this point in his career he's clearly not.


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