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2012 Phillies Player Preview: Juan Pierre

Player pages: Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference

When I told my wife one evening a few weeks back that the Phillies had signed Juan Pierre, she didn’t miss a beat. "You mean Juan F. Pierre?"

Yes, dear, I do: the very same fellow who acquired that nickname way back in 2003, when he hit .397/.471/.493 in 90 plate appearances against the Phillies, with 12 steals in 13 tries. The 25 year-old speedster probably was the biggest reason the Marlins beat out the Phils for the NL wild card that year, whence they went on to win the World Series. Pierre’s overall triple-slash line that season was .305/.361/.373; if you take out his knife-work against the Phils, it was .294/.328/.368. The little bastard earned that F.

But it turns out there are other reasons to dislike Pierre. He’s led the majors in caught-stealing seven times in eleven seasons since 2001, including the last two. That 2003 season was only time he’s ever drawn more than 50 walks, and just twice has he cracked a .400 slugging percentage or a 100 OPS+. Oh, and he’s had negative defensive value in six of his last nine seasons.

And yet, notwithstanding the anguished alternate-universe screams of my younger self, I can’t really hate this signing. In fact, assuming he’s used properly, Pierre should be a legitimate asset for the 2012 Phillies.

Pierre is a superior contact hitter—he strikes out even less than he walks—can be relied upon to get a bunt down, and would be a superior late-game choice on the basepaths to Jim Thome or Ty Wigginton even if Pierre got one leg caught in a bear trap. Just don’t think of him as a platoon option: the lefty hitter has the exact same career .708 OPS against righties as he does portsiders, and last year OPSed 145 points higher facing lefties.

Pierre was used mostly as a left fielder by the White Sox last season, and doubtless there will be some sentiment for the Phils to deploy him there the first time Jimmy Rollins has a prolonged slump in the leadoff spot or John Mayberry, Jr. and Laynce Nix (the two of whom, by the way, almost certainly should be the platoon solution in left once Ryan Howard is healthy) have a few consecutive 0-fers. This would be a mistake: Pierre’s flaws, from the lousy defense to the total lack of power, rightly render him a bench guy as he moves deeper into his 30s. But as that breed goes, he could be pretty useful, and Ruben Amaro deserves some kudos for plucking him off the reject pile.