Juan Pierre evokes a lot of strong opinions from people. In an age of statistical data and the prominence of those who interpret that data, Pierre has often been the fodder of conversation. And thus, when he signed a minor league contract before the season with the Philadelphia Phillies, that conversation intensified. Now, he has made the team's opening day roster. Whoo boy. Let the fun begin.
As has been written in this space before, Juan Pierre is a statistical toy. Nobody in baseball has struck out less than Juan Pierre. Nobody in the game has had more bunt base hits. Nobody else in the game has stolen more bases while not being particularly good at it than Juan Pierre. Pierre has racked up over 700 plate appearances the last two seasons. For all that playing time, Baseball-reference.com has given him the grand total of 1.8 rWAR over the past two seasons combined (1.8 rWAR in 2010 and 0 in 2011). Fangraphs rated him higher in 2010 at 2.9 but lower last year at -0.4 fWAR.
It is obvious in the linked piece from ESPN.com that his new manager loves Juan Pierre. But how will he use him? Pierre played every game of every season from 2003 to 2007, three years with the Marlins, a year with the Cubs and then a year with the Dodgers. In 2008 with the Dodgers, he ran into the Manny Ramirez euphoria and lost some playing team to that phenomenon for 2008 and 2009. The stories at the time indicated he wasn't happy about it. Then he played nearly every game for the White Sox for the past two seasons. Will he be content to be a role player?
As a role player, Pierre is probably a better choice than Scott Podsednik who was his chief rival this spring for a job. While the Phillies wait for the return of Ryan Howard, Pierre can take some turns in left if John Mayberry, Jr. plays first. But Ty Wigginton also plays first and will get some playing time. That forces the Phillies to use Mayberry in left if they want him in the lineup. And then what happens when Ryan comes back?
In the grand scheme of things, will Juan Pierre get more than 200 plate appearances? This will be fascinating to watch, won't it? If Pierre does get more than 200 plate appearances, how effective will he be? What if he gets 400 plate appearances? Would that be a bad thing for the Phillies?
The thought here is that Juan Pierre is a useful player. He is a good base runner (base stealing aside), puts the ball in play and other than a terrible throwing arm, can't hurt you too much in left where he should be adequate when he plays. But the thought is also here that Pierre's best usage would be as a part-time player with a limited role. If he gets significant playing time, that won't bode well for the Phillies' offense as a whole. His $800,000 contract with incentives is a far cry from what he's been paid in the past and makes this an attractive equation for the Phillies. The real question is whether Juan Pierre can accept his new status when he has four or five more years left in his career.