My goodness, was Juan Pierre ever exactly what we thought he was. He did not disappoint, nor did he exceed expectations. The most enthusiastic reviews will always be for players who exceeded expectations, and the most vitriolic diatribes will come for Carlo--uh, players who under-perform. It takes some special circumstances to get worked up over a player who did just what you expected them to; even with Linebrink I was more upset with management for signing him than anything else.
Luckily for us, Juan stole 68 bases, so there's plenty to talk about.
Stat line: .275 BA, .341 OBP, .316 SLG, .657 OPS, 1 HR, 47 RBI, 45 BB, 47 SO, 96 R, .312 wOBA, 13.4 UZR, 2.2 WAR
What did we expect?: By the time Juan made his way over to the South Side at the beginning of this season and strolled into those peculiar commercials where he ran in slow-motion (a preview to fans of what he'll look like in 3 years), it was already pretty clear--even to 'late to the party' schlubs like myself--that Juan was the type of player who would have been a lot better off in an era before they measured things like slugging percentage, on-base percentage, and whether or not bunts are stupid.
"The real boom-or-bust spot in the roster. If you buy into
OPS as dogma, Juan Pierre is a marginal player. Hell, if you buy into
OBP, he's not that great. He doesn't draw nearly enough walk to still
get a good OBP on even slightly down years for his batting average.
Ozzie will try to squeeze every ounce out of his running ability
(unless he's lobotomized before opening day; an increasingly real
possibility), so Pierre has every reason to have a banner year unless
you feel that the lack of space in the White Sox outfield compared to
the locales of his prime years (LA, Florida, Colorado), gives him less
room to spray his weak flares."
Good Gawd! This is embarrassing to go over. I was still using OPS as a dogma (in my defense, I read too much espn.com, and am unusually fond of stats that can be calculated very easily on a standard calculator), and was under some notion that if Juan got hot/lucky with all the flares and loopers and whatnot, and somehow managed to hit .330, he'd ignite the offense, and not just be rendered marginal by his lack of power in any case.
Mostly, I regret using the word "boom" in a Juan Pierre summary.
The result: First, it behooves us to mention the saving grace of Juan Pierre's season: his defense. Juan is a pretty fast guy who pays a lot of attention to physical fitness (it's a lot of fun to compare his pre-game wind-sprints to Carlos Quentin's), so running around in the outfield seems like it would come pretty natural to Juan. But posting a 13.4 UZR despite turning 33 this season seemed like a stretch....especially for a guy armed with a bra-strap cannon for an arm. Maybe credit the smaller U.S. Cellular outfield for giving him better coverage and reducing the harm of his throwing, maybe credit playing 160 games for increasing his comfort level, or maybe credit the unreliability of the UZR stat. In any case, he shagged balls about as well as anyone could hope for in 2010.
As for the offense....eh...well....well here's the thing. Juan has absolutely no power whatsoever. None. And you need power. You really do. Not just home runs, but anything beyond a seeing-grounder. Of his 179 hits on the year, only 22 were for extra-bases, and he didn't have any before May 11th. None! Till May 11th!*
*The season started April 5th; surely you get where there's a conflict here
So while Juan had banner months of July and August, and hit .286 after an April that would make most long for cholera, a .316 slugging mark is going to make your offensive value look super-terrible no matter what way you slice it. 47 walks is pretty darn average, especially if it comes in the 7 boogajillion plate appearances that Juan got thrown his way this season (6.1% walk rate). As a result, Pierre has permanent A.J. Pierzynski disease, where he absolutely has to hit .300 to have a justifiable offensive season. He wound up hitting .275, and needed quite the push just to get there. During the months of July and August, when he hit .330, he seemed like he was getting on base all the time (.391), and was a great leadoff man, but that's an unsustainable clip, and he's not good enough at getting on base through alternate means, or powerful enough to be a worthwhile presence in the lineup when he's not on a hot streak.
The case for Pierre on offense is his stolen bases, which quickly devolves into an argument of the value of a base-stealing as a whole. Juan swiped a league-leading 68 bags, and converted his last 9 in a row to finish at very respectable 79% success rate. But 96 runs scored in 734 plate appearances isn't terribly efficient, and FanGraphs indicates that he was 10 runs created below average on offense despite his prodigious steal totals, leaving only for old school, grinder ball advocates to argue that Pierre has hidden value from taking opposing pitches off their rhythm....which might explain why seemingly washed-up Omar Vizquel and Paul Konerko had inexplicable resurgences....but nah, that's hooey.
Love him or leave him?: Well, we're gonna! So why even discuss it?
The Sox have Pierre under contract for another season, and with Los Angeles' continued "Take him, TAKE HIM!" motivated salary contribution, he'll only cost $5 million. At 2.2 WAR, he registered as a minor success even if those number are inflated for a most likely overvalued defense.
As J.J. at White Sox Examiner deduced from math I'm unwilling to look up myself, a single win above replacement was worth about $4 million this season, so Juan for $3 million this season and $5 mil for next registers as buy-one/get-one-free special in terms of value.
But there's a thing about 33-year old players whose effectiveness is based primarily on speed; it tends to be an incredibly bad idea, and holding on a season too long is pretty damn disastrous. It seemed like Juan was a step slow this season whenever he'd fail to run out a slow roller, and whatever game plan that involved him trying to bunt for base-hits was two steps slow.
While I was hellaciously chastising Kenny Williams at the end of the season, I listed the last thing of a long list of areas for overhaul as "replacing Juan Pierre", and I put it in that last spot intentionally. Juan defends and runs well enough that improving the left field position isn't an emergency, and it's perfectly fine if the Sox don't get around to it before April 2011. But Juan is not optimal. He does too many things far too poorly to have an unshakable starting role, let along the "unquestioned leadoff guy/center of bad ad campaigns" status he enjoys.
Hey, plenty of World Series teams had middling, aging role players as the team mascot, right?
As it turns out, writers I respect and enjoy the work of when I have time to read (eek, did I just directly imply that I don't read?...this blog just got stoopid), have been linking to my work out of some spirit of giving, or keeping their readers abreast on the myriad of worthwhile material there is on the White Sox, or whatever. So in the interest of doing the same, and not being a totally unappreciative dick, I will do the same
Jim Margulus at the preeminent Sox Machine continues to explore his bold, but undoubtedly long overdue, theory that the Sox might be better off delegating bullpen assignments by situation and not strict roles.
J.J. Stankevitz at White Sox Examiner is also doing player reviews, and while I will maintain to the death that I had my mind made up on doing player wrap-ups anyway, he started first with position players, prompting me to begin with the bullpen so as not to overlap too much. At present, he just wrapped up the unenviable task of trying to be fair-minded about Mark Teahen. I assure, the fact that his blog is named 'Examiner' and mine is 'Observer' probably couldn't be more apt.