Juan Pierre Saves Phillies from Themselves, Signs with Marlins

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Between 2005-11, Juan Pierre posted an aggregate 83 wRC+ (what is wRC+?), tied with Orlando Cabrera for the lowest among all players with at least 4,000 trips to the plate in that time span. If not for his prodigious base running, he would have been complete dead weight with the Marlins, Cubs, Dodgers, White Sox, and Phillies. Offense is just not his forte.

The Phillies picked him up on the cheap in January, signing him to a Minor League deal and an invitation to spring training. Pierre performed well, playing his way onto the Opening Day roster at the age of 34. He got a lot of playing time in left field as part of a hastily-made platoon with John Mayberry. For the most part, Pierre was quite good by his own standards, though not a particularly high one. He posted a batting average above .300 in four of six months and overall had his best offensive season since 2009, the year before offense really started to decline around the league.

Due to the fact that the Phillies are expected to spend big money on a center fielder, they are also expected to address both outfield corners cheaply. The prevailing consensus heading into November was that the Phillies would eventually sign Pierre to a Major League deal, paying him slightly more than the $800,000 he earned in 2012. The Miami Marlins recently pawned off an absurd percentage of their roster to the Toronto Blue Jays, and as a result do not have the luxury of waiting around to fill out one of the many open positions on the roster. Pierre was added to the Fish on Saturday night on a one-year, $1.6 million deal — exactly double last season’s salary.

Pierre is highly unlikely to match his 2012 output going forward, especially as a 35-year-old. His game is predicated entirely on speed and luck, not unlike free agent and ticking time bomb Michael Bourn. Pierre hits for almost no power (.063 ISO), doesn’t draw walks (5.2 percent), and is weak defensively, especially due to his arm. Pierre’s value to the Phillies came entirely from his high batting average (.307) and ability to run the bases (37 stolen bases in 44 attempts).

34-year-olds rarely reinvent themselves or find some magical hotfix that transforms them as a player. Pierre posted a .327 batting average on balls in play, his second-highest mark since 2005. That was the basis of Pierre’s high average and, given that Pierre’s batted ball splits did not change in any meaningful way, is unlikely to finish as well going forward.

$1.6 million isn’t a significant amount of money, but allocating it to Pierre is a mistake nonetheless. Thankfully, it is the Marlins’ problem and not the Phillies’ — though the Phillies did commit $850,000 to Kevin Frandsen on the basis of a strong but ultimately fluky 2012 showing in a limited sample. The Frandsen deal is more acceptable due to the complete lack of viable options at third base, but it doesn’t make it any more likely that he will repeat last season’s .338 average and .366 BABIP.

By having Pierre lifted out of the free agent pool this early, the Marlins actually helped save the Phillies from themselves and they will be better for it in 2013. They will now have to address the corners in a different way, perhaps by putting Domonic Brown in left and platooning Nate Schierholtz with Mayberry in right. No, it won’t feel as comfortable or familiar on Opening Day, but it has a much better chance to pan out favorably than paying for last year’s performance with a veteran retread.

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11 comments

  1. Larry

    November 18, 2012 08:24 AM

    I noticed no mention from you about Ruf. Nothing more than a dh/bench bat in your opinion at this point? What do you think the plan for him might be this year vs what you think it should be?

  2. LTG

    November 18, 2012 11:20 AM

    What is the reason for preferring Dom in LF to RF? His arm makes him a better candidate for RF, but I assume everyone knows that and still projects him as a LFer. Is it that he has played in LF more in the minors? Is it that he is less likely to have to track balls slicing away from him in LF than in RF? Is it that mistakes are less likely to allow a guy to get to 3B? A mixture of these and others?

  3. Bill Baer

    November 18, 2012 11:30 AM

    I think it’s just because that’s where they heavily used him in 2012, particularly before they traded away Victorino and Pence.

  4. Josh G

    November 18, 2012 06:32 PM

    Also Shierholtz is a plus defender, so on days he plays I’d want him in RF.

  5. Frank Reynolds

    November 19, 2012 01:42 PM

    I did not think he has a shot to come back with the phillies. But I guess you are right Bill it’s better the Marlins picked him up now. If he was still without a team in January anything would be possible. I don’t see him doing what he did last year. For what he was I thought he did well.

  6. Pencilfish

    November 19, 2012 01:47 PM

    Darin Ruf is about 14 months older than Domonic Brown, and yet some are writing off Ruf, while giving Brown the benefit of the doubt. Brown has 477 AB in MLB from 2010 to 2012, posting an overall .236 BA, .703 OPS and -1.8 WAR. Why is Brown viewed as a starting LF in 2013? If Ruf is not a viable option, then I can’t see how Brown is much more than a replacement-level player. It would seem getting a (RH?) power-hitting corner OF should be the next highest priority after the CF.

  7. TomG

    November 19, 2012 02:02 PM

    Well, even though the numbers may say I shouldn’t have, I really liked Juan Pierre. I hope we can get someone even better for 2013 – but till, I thought Juan did pretty well for us.

  8. hk

    November 19, 2012 02:40 PM

    Pencilfish,

    By mentioning Ruf’s age relative to Brown’s, you practically answered your own question. Brown put up those disappointing MLB numbers during his age 22 to age 24 seasons while being jerked back and forth between the minors and the big club. During his age 22 to age 24 seasons, Ruf was almost exclusively playing against younger competition in the Rookie, Low A and High A levels of the minors. Brown produced a .993 OPS at AA at age 22 (prior to being promoted to AAA and then to the Phils). Ruf produced a 1.028 OPS at AA at age 25, again while facing mostly younger competition.

    One more thing about Brown is that he seems to have hit into bad luck in his MLB stints as his BABIP is only .269. FWIW, Bill James projects his BABIP to be .311 this year and he projects Brown to produce a .274 / .347 / .445 triple-slash with 17 HR’s and 12 SB’s.

  9. Pencilfish

    November 19, 2012 05:18 PM

    hk,

    Let’s hope Brown performs like Bill James projects then. Otherwise, we’ll regret keeping Brown through all the RAJ trades that drained the Phillies Farm system.

  10. Phillie697

    November 19, 2012 05:51 PM

    Melky signed for 2 years, $16M. We couldn’t have matched that? Man, how much did that positive test cost him?

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