Juan Pierre’s Historic Lack of Power

In a surprising turn of events, Juan Pierre figures to be a semi-regular part of the Phillies’ lineup this year. His reputation as a gritty gamer and a spring in which he hit .373 have led to this, despite posting an unbecoming .657 OPS in each of the last two seasons.

Pierre has been around a while. Many Phillies fans remember the days in the early 2000’s when he and Luis Castillo terrorized the Phillies from atop the Florida Marlins’ batting order with drag bunts and stolen bases galore. One item notably missing from Pierre’s arsenal? Power.

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Pierre has 16 career home runs in 7,511 plate appearances. He is only one of four players to hit so few home runs in so many plate appearances:

Rk Player HR PA From To Age
1 Juan Pierre 16 7511 2000 2011 22-33
2 Larry Bowa 15 9109 1970 1985 24-39
3 Don Kessinger 14 8530 1964 1979 21-36
4 Donie Bush 9 8745 1908 1923 20-35
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/3/2012.

He hit two homers in 2011 alone, the most he has hit in one season since he hit three in 2006. I did some research to make sure those home runs did, in fact, happen.

June 3, 2011 vs. Detroit

August 16, 2011 vs. Cleveland

Since 2007, Pierre’s .054 isolated power in 3,005 PA is the second-lowest among all Major League outfielders, a whopping 19 points behind noted masher Willie Bloomquist and trailed only by Willy Taveras (.050), who fizzled out of baseball following the 2009 season.

Name PA ISO wOBA
Willy Taveras 1420 .050 .298
Juan Pierre 3005 .054 .311
Willie Bloomquist 1428 .073 .298
Emilio Bonifacio 1564 .079 .307
Tony Gwynn 1314 .079 .295
Ichiro Suzuki 3616 .082 .340
Nyjer Morgan 1832 .086 .323
Michael Bourn 2652 .087 .323
Skip Schumaker 2297 .089 .324
Mitch Maier 1028 .094 .306
Ryan Sweeney 1646 .098 .321
Scott Podsednik 1598 .099 .322

Ichiro is the only player in the list with a wOBA notably higher than the league average. Behind him, the next-best hitter is Skip Schumaker at .324. That represents the most optimistic, the absolute ceiling for the 34-year-old Pierre in 2012. All of the projections have him between .295 and .305. Put another way, Pierre’s most recent performances in 2010 and ’11 merited offensive WAR marks (per Baseball Reference) of 0.0 and 0.1, respectively. That means if Pierre is going to contribute to this team, it will be with his legs and with his glove, not his bat.

Cole Hamels and Matt Cain

Matt Cain signed a contract extension with the San Francisco Giants yesterday, spanning five years and totaling $112.5 million guaranteed. The right-hander is 27 years old and has crafted an impressive resume as one of the most effective and most underrated pitchers in baseball. Last year, Cain tossed 221 and two-thirds innings with a K/BB approaching three-to-one (20 percent/7 percent) and a 2.88 ERA.

Phillies fans should care about the Cain extension because it sets a floor for negotiations between the Phillies and Cole Hamels. Hamels will be eligible for free agency after the season, but both sides have expressed interest in continuing their partnership. Last year, Hamels tossed 216 innings with a K/BB approaching 4.5-to-one (23 percent/5 percent) and a 2.79 ERA. It was a career year for Hamels, who bounced back from a rough 2009 season by adding a cutter to his arsenal and improving his curveball, turning him into a four-pitch National League nightmare.

Should Hamels reach free agency, he is expected to draw plenty of interest from baseball’s richest teams. He is one of the three best lefties in the league, along with teammate Cliff Lee and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees, with an endless supply of American currency, and the newly-purchased Dodgers are expected to be among the most pursuant. Because Cain and Hamels are so similar in nearly every way aside from their pitching hands, the recent extension with the Giants means that the Phillies cannot reasonably offer Hamels anything excessively lower than five years at $112.5 million. The Phillies were hoping to begin the bidding at a lower level

One person with knowledge of the situation says the Phils know how much Hamels will cost – $20 million or more per season – and are set to pay it. The person said the length of the deal is an issue, that the Phillies would like to do a four-year deal and Hamels wants more.

… but now must start somewhere in the neighborhood of Cain’s contract. A signing was never likely to happen on Opening Day, as Jayson Stark explains:

Hamels said his understanding is the Phillies don’t want to sign him before Opening Day because then “they’d have to deal with the luxury tax.” However, one source says that baseball has changed its luxury-tax rules in the last year, so there would be no luxury-tax implications on the team for 2012 regardless, as long as Hamels’ salary for this year remained unchanged.

Once the regular season is underway, it is in the Phillies’ best interest to get Hamels locked up sooner rather than later. They played with fire with Jimmy Rollins last year and it very nearly cost them a productive shortstop, which would have been one more problem in an infield full of them. If Rollins hadn’t overestimated his own value and underestimated the aversion from other teams to his age and injury history, he very well could have been starting the 2012 season in another uniform. The Phillies won’t be so lucky if they go the same route with Hamels. Unlike Rollins, Hamels has youth and a clean bill of health on his side, along with all of the stuff he does on the mound.

The Phillies can oppose market value now, or oppose market value and a handful of very wealthy teams in the off-season. Hamels’ price, now with a defined floor, will not be this low in November. For a Phillies team that will only get older and more injury-prone going forward, keeping Hamels around will provide them more certainty. If the Phillies are competitive in 2013 and beyond, Hamels will be the single biggest reason why.