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Dangit, Juan Pierre, we'll miss you

The speedy outfielder announced his retirement over the weekend, which gives us a chance to reflect on what he did right.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The recently retired Juan Pierre used to be a sabermetric flashpoint. It seems so strange, so distant, but it's true. He was the guy getting down-ballot MVP votes from newspaper writers at the same time he was getting criticism from statheads for not walking enough. This made him simultaneously over- and underrated, a zone that few players ever pass through. He was The Departed of players, not nearly as good or awful as its greatest supporters and detractors claim.

That doesn't mean there still aren't some folks holding out hope for a Cooperstown surprise!


But for the most part, Pierre will be remembered as a nice player. Good enough to start when he was younger. Often an asset to his team. One of the best thousand hitters or so to play the game. In five years, he'll appear on a Hall of Fame ballot, and it will be the first time you've thought about him in a while. You used to have opinions on Jose Vidro, too.

Except that's selling Pierre short. He never made an All-Star team, and he didn't WAR the heck out of the place with his offense or defense, but that doesn't mean he didn't have a remarkable career. We're talking about a career that was literally remarkable -- worthy of being, or likely to be, noticed. Pierre was one of baseball's greatest outliers, and the game is a little less rich without him somewhere in the league, doing the things he did at his peak.

Here are the different ways Pierre was a freak since he came into the league in 2000, and they're all arguments for Pierre being the best dammit player of his generation.

Stolen bases rank since 2000: #1

He had 614 stolen bases in his career, ranking first among all players since 2000. There's a dark corollary to that impressive stat: He also ranked first in caught stealing with 203, almost twice as many as the next player on the list. His penchant for getting caught almost negated his baserunning value completely.

Focus on the good times, though. Over the last 14 seasons, no one has stolen more bases than Pierre. Every time he reached and second base was open, the pitcher mumbled "dammit." The catcher mumbled "dammit." If he was on the road, the opposing fans collectively mumbled "dammit." He was a classic dammit player, then, and baseball is so much better with a few dammit players sprinkled around the league.

Think of the Royals last postseason. One of the reasons they were so compelling is they had a plethora of those players -- speed mavens the announcers had to comment on every time they reached base. Pierre elicited that reaction more than anyone in baseball over the last 14 years. That he was successful just three attempts out of every four isn't the point. The raw excitement, the here-we-go-again, is something that will usually be around baseball in some capacity, with Dee Gordon and Terrance Gore today, but Pierre did it for a decade-plus.

That makes him one of the greatest dammit players in baseball history, even.

Hits rank since 2000: #8

What's a dammit player without hits? Scads and scads of hits. I've written an ode to batting average before.

What happens when someone on your team gets a hit? If you're at the park, you clap and cheer. If you're at home alone, you ... well, that's your time. But you're excited. A player who does this more often than the other players is releasing more endorphins for you, making you clap and cheer more than the other slobs.

The seven players ahead of Pierre on the hits leaderboard since 2000 all had other things going for them. Ichiro had a little power, and he was a better hitter. Derek Jeter, Michael Young, and Jimmy Rollins played in the middle of the infield. Adrian Beltre and Albert Pujols hit copious dingers, and Torii Hunter was a defensive marvel.

All Pierre had was the dammit, yet it was still enough to be remarkable, to stand out among his peers for years and years. With almost all of those players (Ichiro and Rollins being the exceptions), the hit was something like the end of the story. There was an at-bat. There was a hit. A run did or didn't eventually score. The end. With Pierre, though, there was no reason for him to exist if the hit wasn't the beginning of the story, and he excelled at that part of the dammit game. So many singles. So many dammits. He led the league in UGH+ for several seasons in a row.

Strikeouts rank since 2000: #5

That's with a minimum of 5,000 plate appearances, though. If you want to move the goalposts to get Pierre at the top spot, that's easy to do.

Rank Player SO PA
1 David Eckstein 418 5705
2 Yadier Molina 462 5046
3 Bengie Molina 465 5049
4 Dustin Pedroia 479 5157
5 Juan Pierre 479 8280

Pierre started with an 0-2 count in 698 plate appearances over his career. He still hit .268 in those appearances, striking out just 19 percent of the time. His ability to make contact (along with his utter lack of power) hurt his chances to accumulate gaudy walk totals, so he did the next best thing: annoyed pitchers. Foul strike foul ball foul ball ball foul single. Foul strike foul foul foul ball foul single. How many of those sequences did Pierre have in his career? It's impossible to search for exact pitch sequences on Baseball-Reference's Play Index, so I'll have to guess. A billion. That's my guess. Sequences like that happened a billion times over Pierre's career.

Here's a 13-pitch at-bat against the Braves in which Pierre never got to a 2-2 count. He had two separate 10-pitch at-bats against Scott Baker in the same game. That's absolutely obnoxious. It's also perfect. Even when he wasn't getting on base or hitting the ball, he was still bothering pitchers.

Pierre had 818 one-pitch plate appearances in his career, more than a full season's worth, and that would seem to be the downside of a strikeout-free approach. He still hit .347 in those appearances. Pitchers were hosed either way. Dammit, they would remark. Dammit.

Pierre will fall off the Hall of Fame ballot in his first year of eligibility, mostly because there wasn't nearly enough of this:

Still, Pierre was an outlier, a freak, a remarkable player. He was the best dammit player of his generation, transcending the Ecksteins, Bloomquists, and Punti who didn't have the speed to catch him. It's hard to suggest that his retirement is bittersweet, considering he clearly wasn't a major-league talent anymore, but maybe we should have mourned that unquantifiable tipping point at the time. The day that Pierre wasn't good enough to make pitchers, teams, and fans say "dammit" was a day that baseball became a little bit duller.

He wasn't exactly a great player, and he often wasn't a very good one, either. But he made everyone curse a lot. Were you not entertained? You were entertained. And unless he was on your team, you were annoyed. That was the raison d'etre of Juan Pierre, and what a remarkable raison that was for more than a dozen years.