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July 3, 2009

You Could Look It Up

The Difference a Manny Makes

by Steven Goldman

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With Manny Ramirez about to return to the Dodgers' lineup, having completed his suspension, there has been much grumbling about the supposed great injustice about to be suffered by Juan Pierre. Despite having done such a fine job substituting for Ramirez, the speedy singles hitter is about to head back to the bench. This is somehow construed to be unjust, but just as was true at the start of the season, the bench is the only appropriate destination for Pierre given an outfield already stocked with Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier.

As a fourth outfielder, Pierre did his job, which was to give the Dodgers useful production in the absence of one of the starters. His performance is remarkable only in the context of the Dodgers having no alternative to Pierre himself-the fall-off from Ramirez to Pierre or a theoretical replacement-level substitute promised to be vast, and it was, but not to the degree that might have been expected given by how much Pierre outplayed his usual middling standards. He has never hit as well as he is hitting right now.

The rub is that Pierre's performance is being compared to his own sorry standards, but not to what Ramirez is likely to produce or to those of other left fielders around the majors. The average major league left fielder is hitting .268/.343/.435; Pierre exceeds them in batting average and on-base percentage, but lags this average left fielder in slugging percentage, due in no small part to his having hit no home runs. His isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) is .025, and that's against .167 for all left fielders. In terms of Marginal Lineup Value, a measure of the runs generated by a batter beyond what an average player at the same position would produce on a team of otherwise average hitters, Pierre ranks in the middle of the pack (minimum 150 plate appearances), ranking eighth in the National League and thirteenth in the majors in MLV per game (MLVr):


 # Player          Team        PA    MLVr
 1 Raul Ibanez     Phillies   280    .457
 2 Ryan Braun      Brewers    331    .431
 3 Josh Willingham Nationals  185    .333
 4 Gary Sheffield  Mets       204    .284
 5 Adam Dunn       Nationals  331    .259
 6 Seth Smith      Rockies    164    .247
 7 Johnny Damon    Yankees    318    .205
 8 Nolan Reimold   Orioles    156    .186
 9 Jason Bay       Red Sox    335    .185
10 Carlos Lee      Astros     312    .179
11 Carl Crawford   Rays       350    .168
12 Juan Rivera     Angels     279    .167
13 Juan Pierre     Dodgers    273    .144
14 Matt Diaz       Braves     150    .133
15 Chris Dickerson Reds       190    .098

Ramirez hit hit the suspended list with 120 PAs; if he qualified, he would rank first on the list with an MLVr at .635. As a result, however well Pierre has done by his own standards, the Dodgers promise to reap an offensive windfall if Ramirez picks up where he left off. Extrapolating MLVr over the rest of the schedule is inexact, but will suffice to illustrate the vast differences between the two outfielders. As of today, the Dodgers have 83 games to go. Playing every day at his current career-best rate of production, Pierre would give the Dodgers another 12 runs above average; Ramirez would give them another 53 runs above average. Using the rule of thumb that every addition ten runs created by a player leads to one extra win, this would be worth an additional four wins to the Dodgers.

Of course, when Ramirez was banished he was hitting .348/.492/.641, numbers that he wasn't terribly likely to sustain over the rest of the season. Those rates aren't unprecedented in his career-Ramirez had been in a similar place at the beginning of the decade, but he was 30 then, not 37. After his suspension, Ramirez might be less motivated or less... energized than he was previously, or it might simply take him awhile to find his old form. Let us posit a scenario in which post-suspension Ramirez cools down to the point that the rest of the way he hits only what PECOTA initially projected for him, .295/.390/.537, which would be good for an MLVr of .242. That would result in 20 runs above average over the rest of the season. If Ramirez does indeed slump to this level, the Dodgers would face some interesting choices given the differences between playing Pierre, a former center fielder, and Ramirez, whose casual approach in the field is well known-the lost outs in the field would eat up a good deal of the offensive difference.

Instead of leaving that possibility hanging, let's put the shoe on the other foot. PECOTA projected Pierre to hit .288/.330/.340, which translates to a robust -.124 MLVr. We need hardly go through the exercise, but were Pierre to keep playing and revert to his 2005-08 norm (the very reason he landed on the bench to begin with), he would be ten runs below average over the rest of the season, meaning a loss of a win for the Dodgers compared to what an average player would have given them, and three wins compared to what Ramirez reverting to his own PECOTA projection might be worth.

The Dodgers have likely seen the best that Juan Pierre has to offer. He's 31 years old, a bit late to be breaking new ground in terms of his offensive value. Indeed, his last 30 games suggest that the golden age has already passed: since May 29, Pierre is hitting .244/.299/.283, which is not only worse than anything Ramirez might reasonably be expected to give the Dodgers, it's below replacement level. Whatever winning the Dodgers have done in that span-and at 16-14 they were way below their season line-it was in spite of Pierre. The Dodgers got lucky when Pierre gave them a hot streak just when they needed it most earlier in the season. Asking for more would be greedy, not to mention unrealistic. Fortunately, with Ramirez coming back, they don't have to.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

Related Content:  Dodgers,  Juan Pierre

13 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Mike Petriello

Couldn't agree more, not that the idea that Manny Ramirez is a better hitter than Juan Pierre is really something anyone could argue with.

It just blows my mind, the number of stories I've read about how great Juan Pierre was during Manny's absence, with people completely ignoring that he was fantastic for three weeks and then worse than ever for the last four.

Jul 03, 2009 08:10 AM
rating: 1
 
anderson721

Coinciding perfectly with the day I picked him up on a fantasy team....

Jul 03, 2009 15:31 PM
rating: 0
 
cyborg

Another day...another Juan Pierre bashing on BP. OK, the guy is a slap hitter and not as good as Manny Ramirez. I think everyone gets that. He's a one dimensional player and the fact that he plays LF hurts him in BPs eyes because that is traditionally a power position. But as a 4th OFer, what else do you want? Here is a list of the 4th OFers for the other playoff teams (seemingly the best teams) as of today:

BOS Rocco Baldelli,
NYY Gardner or Hinske,
DET Josh Anderson,
LAA Matthews,
PHI John Mayberry or Stairs,
MIL Gerut,
SFG Lewis or Scherholtz

Which one of these guys is better than average OFer? Maybe Baldelli if he could play more than 35 games in a season. There's a reason these guys are 4th Ofers.

Jul 03, 2009 11:13 AM
rating: -1
 
Todd S.

I think the point is that the grumbling Steven referred to in the first sentence.

The subtext from some of the mainstream media is this:

How dare Manny come back, that *drug user*, when we have a perfectly scrappy left fielder who *hustles* and doesn't embarrass our squad with his antics?

Jul 03, 2009 11:27 AM
rating: 3
 
cbirkemeier

Got another list for you:

Pierre $10M
Matthews $10M
Gerut $1.775M
Gardner and Hinske less than $1.5M
Mayberry and Stairs $1.4M
Lewis and Schierholtz $0.85M
Baldelli $0.5M plus incentives
Anderson $0.4M

Jul 03, 2009 11:35 AM
rating: 8
 
cyborg
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

OK...fall back on his contract. There was no mention in the article or my post of his contract and whether it's smart to have a $10M player on the bench. We were talking about Pierre's value to his team as a 4th OFer and what he did during the 50 games Manny was out. The contract is irrelevant.

My point was that since Pierre is not a starting OFer, he shouldn't be compared to the stats of a starting OFer.

Which one of the guys on the list would be able to step in for 50 games like he did?

BP and the BP clones hate him because of his contract and his perceived value from non BP clones. He doesn't fit the BP model. Get over it and move on to something else.

Jul 03, 2009 15:31 PM
rating: -7
 
Dave Pomerantz

If your point is that Pierre is a 4th outfielder and shouldn't be compared to starters, then (despite your first statement about "Pierre bashing on BP) you are in fact agreeing with the article: "As a fourth outfielder, Pierre did his job, which was to give the Dodgers useful production in the absence of one of the starters."

Jul 06, 2009 09:39 AM
rating: 3
 
David Coonce

Aside from Mathews, however, are any of these other guys making 10 million dollars a year?

The point isn't that Pierre is no good - the point is that LA could easily have spent the ten million dollars on a starting pitcher, while employing a guy like Baldelli or Stairs for peanuts.

Jul 05, 2009 11:58 AM
rating: 1
 
bgerdsen

"His performance is remarkable only in the context of the Dodgers having no alternative to Pierre himself—the fall-off from Ramirez to Pierre or a theoretical replacement-level substitute promised to be vast, and it was, but not to the degree that might have been expected given by how much Pierre outplayed his usual middling standards. He has never hit as well as he is hitting right now."

C'mon now. Pierre's a career .300 hitter with at least 2 seasons hitting exactly as well as he is right now (.320+). Yes, Manny's more productive, we get that. But let's not paint Juan's performance this season as a fluke. Its not, and on another team, he'd be a perfectly viable starting outfielder and leadoff hitter.

Jul 03, 2009 14:16 PM
rating: -1
 
Sam Mauser

Pierre's performance this year is (probably) a fluke, not because of the .320 average, but the .380 OBP. He hasn't topped a .340 OBP since 2004

Pierre's career .301 batting average is a hollow chocolate Easter bunny, and if you dig deeper his career numbers of .301/.348/.372 don't look quite so good.

Yes, he surpassed expectations and performed admirably in the role of the 4th OF, but the point is that someone who has to surpass expectations to be a good 4th OF isn't someone who should generate a lot of stories about being sent to the bench to make room for Manny.

Jul 04, 2009 04:46 AM
rating: 4
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

Couldn't have said it better myself. Play it again, Sam.

Jul 04, 2009 13:27 PM
 
djardine

Yeah, on a BAD team...

Jul 03, 2009 17:05 PM
rating: 2
 
Squirrelmetrix

Yeah, Juan Pierre is a left fielder for a bad team. He can't play center long term because of his lack of throwing power and he doesn't give you what you want in terms of hitting for a left fielder. He "must" be your leadoff hitter despite not getting on base enough based on career OBP. He is speedy and he was a good leadoff hitter when he was with the Marlins. Now, he is well-paid and that makes him untouchable. He might as well sit on the Dodger bench and come in when the Dodgers need a leadoff pinch hitter or a pinch runner. If he can sit tight and do just that, he might end up with a World Series ring.

Jul 05, 2009 09:40 AM
rating: 0
 
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