Juan Pierre And The Curse Of The Average-Dependent Player

Minneapolis, MN, USA: Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Juan Pierre hits a single against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Juan Pierre ended up starting a bunch of games in left for the Phillies, just as we warned. But it's actually worked out quite well for everyone.

This is the third part of a series. The first part was "The Phillies signed Juan Pierre to a minor-league deal … you know he's going to start, right?" The second part was "I told you Juan Pierre was going to start." Because until Juan Pierre loses a few toes to frostbite, he'll probably be starting somewhere. The things he can do are unique, and those unique skills make him attractive to a manager -- it's like when evolution cranks out an orchid that looks like a bee. Perfect match. Pierre is made for managers like Charlie Manuel.

But back in March, the tone of those articles was somewhat mocking. Pierre, at the time, looked like a low-walk, no-power, poor-glove corner outfielder who led the league in getting caught stealing. Not only did he lead the league in getting nabbed, he did it while stealing just 27 bases, the lowest total over a full season in his career. He was slowing down, then. That made sense, considering he's 34.

This is what he's done for the Phillies this year, though:

2012 340 31 5 .312 .350 .379

Better than the Phillies were hoping, and probably Pierre's best year since 2009. Boy, the Phillies just have all the luck this year.

That isn't an All-Star season. It isn't the kind that'll garner down-ballot MVP votes at the end of the year. Maybe the best way to put it is the way The Good Phight did when they titled an article "Juan Pierre: Thank Goodness for Adequacy."

Pierre has been a very effective patch on a roster that's been held together with chewing gum and Ace bandages all season. There's no guarantee or likelihood that this performance is going to carry over into next season. His baBIP of .325 is fairly high, but not insane. Still, some regression is likely. That Pierre has performed in excess of expectations has been a blessing, to the extent that the team has neither had to rush a prospect, spend additional money, or trade away talent to acquire another stopgap.

I was expecting to follow up the first two parts of the series with a look into a Juan Pierre who was hitting .260, getting thrown out every other time he tried to steal, and damoning throws all around the field. Instead, we have a Phillies blogger using the word "blessing" to describe him.

Blessing. Juan Pierre: a blessing for the Phillies. It reads funny. But it's right. The Phillies bought some time for Dominic Brown, and they received some disruptive, vintage Juan Pierre. The Phillies started Pierre after all, and they ended up looking like geniuses. In this very specific, narrow context. Not so much with the rest of the season. But with Pierre, everything worked out.

When I write these things, I know I'm going to look like a moron a lot of the time. Having baseball opinions is a great way to look like a fool. If baseball were easy to figure out, we wouldn't watch it. But Pierre taught me a valuable lesson, a maxim by which to live:

  • Don't bother evaluating average-dependent players

Simple. If a guy is a drag on an offense when he hits .270, but a good guy to have around when he hits .310, don't pretend like you know if he's a good or bad player. That's four hits out of 100 at-bats. The difference between a season with or without those extra four hits? Dunno. GMs probably dunno too. Those seasons just happen.

Those extra, say, 20 or 30 hits per season come when you aren't expecting them, and they vanish when you want them. If you want to look like a fool, pretend you know what's going on with a guy whose OBP and SLG are only acceptable when his average is high, whether it's Pierre or an aging Ichiro. Baseball specializes in making predictions look silly; the average-dependent player might be the most extreme example of that.

That's some nice making-me-look-stupid there, Mr. Pierre. Well played. And, well played.

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