Saturday, January 28, 2012

Juan Pierre - Bunt King

Juan Pierre just signed a minor league contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. That's quite a come-down for a guy who has played 318 games for the White Sox the last two seasons. The odds of Pierre making the Phillies' roster and/or seeing any significant playing time if he does, seems remote. And that's probably as it should be. Pierre earned negative value according to Fangraphs in 2011 and had zero value according to Baseball-reference.com. Even at your most optimistic, zero value in 158 games doesn't seem like much of a value proposition. And it's kind of too bad that Pierre has about as much chance of getting significant playing time as Ron Paul has of being president. Juan Pierre is a totally unique ballplayer. He is the bunt king.

The one chance Pierre has of catching on with the Phillies (or anyone else) is with his legs. The Phillies were ponderous last year and Pierre has always been fast if nothing else. You could do worse to use him as a defensive replacement late in games though his defensive ratings over the years look like a Dow Jones Index (adding further questions about such metric's worth). His arm is worthless in the outfield, but he can still cover some ground. His arm, in fact, is legendary. He makes Johnny Damon look like he has a cannon.

But again, Pierre is an oddity. He is a statistical toy. Make fun of that all you want, but it sure is interesting. He'll be missed if his playing days are over just for the joy his statistics give us. Here are some examples:
  • During his twelve years in Major League Baseball, Luis Castillo is the only other player to have more than 1000 games played with a lower ISO than Juan Pierre. A slugger Pierre is most certainly not.
  • During his twelve year career, no one has played as many games as Pierre and has struck out less often. His 5.7 strikeout percentage is the lowest in baseball during his career and among all currently active players, only Jeff Keppinger comes close.
  • Unfortunately, Pierre's walk rate matches his strikeout rate. 5.7 percent.
  • In Pierre's twelve years in the big leagues, he's led his league in caught stealing seven times! He's only been successful 72 percent of the time in his career. He's led the league in steals three times, but he is not particularly good at it.
  • Amazingly, Pierre has led his league in hits twice. Despite only playing twelve seasons (eleven full), he's compiled 2,020 hits. Since he's only 33, if he were to play seven more full seasons, he'd get to 3,000.
That's a pretty amazing list of fun stats, is it not? But that's not even the best one. The best statistic to ponder is Juan Pierre's bunting. Batted ball data really only goes back a few years, so we really can't compare Pierre historically. But Pierre is the bunt king of his generation. Fangraphs and B-R differ slightly on his bunt attempts with B-R giving him more, so we'll go with that for now. According to that site, Juan Pierre has had 625 bunt attempts in his career. That's almost a full season! To put that in perspective, one of out of every twelve plate appearances has ended with a bunt. That's incredible.

Of those bunt attempts, 144 have been sacrifice hits. Nobody but old managers are fond of sacrifices, but still. Of those bunt attempts, 186 have led to base hits (Fangraphs has it at 192). That's sixty plus more than the nearest guy since such statistics have been kept. Two of those bunt hits led to doubles (if you can imagine that). So, for Pierre's 625 bunt attempts, he winds up with a slash line of: .387/387/.391. When Juan Pierre bunts, he has an OPS+ of 120. Why would he ever swing?

So sure, we can all state that Juan Pierre hasn't been a very valuable player. And he's at a point in his career where baseball front offices are very aware of valuation metrics. It seems highly unlikely that Juan Pierre will ever again see significant playing time. Which is kind of sad. Because Juan Pierre has some of the goofiest numbers of any baseball player of his era. He is the contact king. He is the walkless king. He is the caught stealing king. He is the toothless king and he is the floppy arm king. But more than anything else, Juan Pierre has been the bunt king.

2 comments:

Michael J, AKA: Grubby Glove said...

I really enjoyed this thoughtful post. Pierre will always have the satisfaction of being a regular player for the 2003 World Champion Florida Marlins, when he hit .305 while amassing 204 hits. Yes he was thrown out 20 times out of 85 stolen base attempts, but he was also tenth in the American League MVP voting that year as well, which shows his accomplishments were recognized and appreciated. I'd like to see him play some more; I'll lay odds there's still something in the tank, especially when a bunt is needed.

LuckyNucky said...

Juan is the consummate Charlie Manual player. Gets the ball in play, bunts, and runs with speed around the bases. Unkel Cholie will have fun making him a challenge for playing small-ball when it's needed. Remember, the last 2 seasons the Phils needed 1 lousy run in the Playoffs to make it count. Here's the Guy!