Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pierre Pulls Plug on Career

Pierre was a player unlike any other (CBS Miami)
After 14 major league seasons, Juan Pierre finally ran out of gas. The speedy outfielder, 37, announced his retirement yesterday after sitting out the entire 2014 season. Pierre last suited up in 2013, batting .247/.284/.305 with 23 steals in 113 games for the Miami Marlins.

Pierre's belated retirement officially marks the end to what was a very unorthodox major league career. When Pierre made his major league debut in 2000 with the Colorado Rockies, power at an all-time high. The record for most home runs in a season was set that year, with 5,693 dingers leaving the yard during the regular season. Pierre, in 219 plate appearances that year, contributed 0. The following season--the year Barry Bonds blasted 73 and Sammy Sosa smashed 64--Pierre managed two in 156 games.

That was Pierre, swimming against the tide. While players were routinely clearing 30 home runs per, Pierre never swatted more than three and finished his career with just 18. Even though he played in some very favorable parks in Colorado and Chicago (both leagues), power just wasn't part of his game. It was almost comical how rarely he went deep, especially in light of how many plate appearances he racked up. Pierre was the epitome of a slap-hitter, the go-to comp for any light-hitting player deemed incapable of clearing the fences. I'm sure many baseball fans believed that, given the same number of ups, they could outdo his meager home run totals.

Despite his dearth of power, Pierre enjoyed a productive big league career that spanned nearly 2,000 games. He was a full-time center fielder for nearly a decade before the Dodgers moved him to left so they could make room for Andruw Jones (not Matt Kemp, as I originally believed). A .295 career hitter, he sprayed 2,217 hits, topping 200 in a season four times and narrowly missing a fifth. He walked nearly as often as he struck out, which he rarely did, topping out at 52 times in 2002 and averaging just 34 K's per season.

Pierre also ran the bases with abandon unlike anyone else during his time (young Jose Reyes is the only one that comes to mind). His 614 stolen bases rank 18th all-time and 10th since the end of World War II. Over the course of his career, nobody came within 100 steals of Pierre, who led the league three times. Not surprisingly, Pierre ranked second in baserunning value during this time--to the still-active Jimmy Rollins.

On the flip side, Pierre was caught stealing almost twice as often as the next closest guy--remember Chone Figgins? Five times Pierre led the majors and seven times led his league in failed stolen base attempts. On the whole though, his aggressiveness helped his teams more than it hurt, for he was successful in over three-quarters of his tries.

With his speed and banjo-hitting approach, Pierre was a throwback to the deadball era, out of place and out of time in the incredible hulk steroid seasons. He was playing small ball when everyone else was loading up for the long ball. In 2007 Alex Rodriguez banked 30 before the All-Star Break. Juan Pierre finished that season with 0, one of three times he finished a season sans a round-tripper. Over 83 percent of his hits were singles.

The most telling statistic about kind of player Pierre was might be this; over the course of his career, he had almost 100 more stolen bases than RBI. I mean, you think he would have knocked in more runs just based on the sheer volume of hits he accumulated (though he was primarily a leadoff hitter in the National League, and typically batted after pitchers as a result). Apparently it's also very hard to drive in baserunners with a career ISO of .066.

Another cool stat of his is that he had more than five times as many triples than home runs. It's incredibly rare for a player nowadays to have equal numbers of both, let alone have a triples total that dwarfs his home run total. For his era, at least, Pierre was truly one of a kind.

One more aspect of Pierre's game was his exceptional durability, which helped him play 821 consecutive games from September 18th, 2002 through the end of the 2007 season. Over the meat of his career, from 2001-2011, he appeared in at least 145 games every year but one and averaged 155 games per season.

Pierre was a joy to watch whenever he got on base, which happened quite frequently (he had a .343 career OBP). He was one of the few base thieves who could make a pitcher sweat just by his mere presence on first base, as he was a threat to steal whenever he reached safely. In that sense he was like a poor man's Ichiro Suzuki, and considering that Ichiro's a surefire Hall of Famer, I mean no disrespect. Wherever Juan Pierre's headed next in life, I'm sure he's running there.

Pierre was born to run (Capers Block)

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