It was assumed by many that Juan Pierre’s offense would dip further into the realms of awful when he signed with the Dodgers, but this beats even my negative expectations. Pierre is hitting .274/.307/.307 on the season, a 614 OPS. To put that into perspective, there are five players with slugging percentages higher than Pierre’s OPS. His Isolated Power figure of .033 is the 37th worst with at least 225 plate appearances in the past twenty-five seasons.
What surprises me is how Pierre has come to this line. He is hitting fewer groundballs than normal; in fact, he’s almost 10% below his average groundball rate from 2002-2006, and down 7.7% from last year’s 55.2%. Groundballs are the key to Pierre’s success; that’s how he gets his infield hits, which keeps his batting average up. Pierre is hitting more flyballs than he normally does in his career, which does two things: first, it generates an image of Willie Mays Hayes in my head, which is always a good time, and second, it makes me wonder if Pierre knows where it is he’s playing his home games.
Dodger Stadium is friendly to homers, but it deflates all other offensive batted-balls. This is why Derek Lowe is such a swell match for Chavez Ravine; he doesn’t give up many homers thanks to his sinking pitches and groundball tendencies, which work well in a park that allows a lot of homers, and the singles, doubles and triples he may have to worry about as a guy who puts a lot of balls into play are gobbled up by park factor goodness. Pierre is maybe attempting to take advantage of this aspect of his home field by hitting more flyballs. In the process though, he seems to have forgotten that he has just enough power to hit a home run every 360 at-bats over his career, and that his home run per flyball rate from 2002-2007 is all of 1.5%. Pierre has hit three flyballs to the warning track in his home games this year, and had a double reach the wall when it was fielded. The rest of them have fallen painfully short of any sort of “hard hit” or “long ball” label, as you can see on this chart from MLB.com:
The comp that keeps coming to mind for me is Julio Lugo in 2006, after he was dealt to the Dodgers. His finger injury sapped a lot of his power, but his batted-ball tendencies changed to that of a flyball hitter. He is another player who relies on his speed and groundball rate in order to hit as many singles as he does, and his tendency towards becoming more of a power hitter did him no good, considering his lack of power while injured. Pierre has even less power than Lugo—Pierre has an extra-base hit every 19 at-bats or so over his career, whereas Lugo gets one every 13 at-bats—and Pierre doesn’t display the patience Lugo does either. It doesn’t help that Pierre is down to 3.2 P/PA; that’s Randall Simon territory, which isn’t a compliment. He’s still getting his infield hits at the same rate as in previous years (13.7, 13.7 and 13.9 at-bats per infield hit the past three seasons) but the extra outs from the flyballs are bringing down his overall numbers.
Pierre has had some success in the past—success I’m not so sure he’ll ever find again, despite his paychecks and Ned Colletti’s confidence in him—and he’s certainly not going to recapture what little offensive value he once had if he’s trying to hit the ball in the air. His inability to take a pitch and draw a walk severely limits his ceiling year in and year out, and if he’s going to stop hitting the ball on the ground as often, you might as well just stick Brady Clark in center to satisfy your veteran fetish. At least he can play some defense, which Pierre cannot despite his speed, and let’s not forget his historically poor throwing either (hat tip, John Walsh). Colletti has done some good and some bad in his time as Dodger G.M., but this signing helps to erase a lot of good. If they end up missing out on the NL West title by a few games, you can blame Pierre’s lack of production for it.