Buster Olney from ESPN tweeted last night that the Reds have shown interest in Phillies OF Juan Pierre. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports reported last week that the Reds had kicked the tires on Phillies CF Shane Victorino. Presumably, the Reds primary interest in either player would be as a rental lead-off hitter. Neither player is signed beyond 2012.
Trading for Juan Pierre would be a disaster. Shane Victorino, however, could provide solid upside for the Reds. Here is the case against Pierre, both in comparison to Victorino and vs. what the Reds have now.
Juan Pierre would turn 35 in August. Shane Victorino is 31. The main risks associated with age are injury and rapid decline.
Juan Pierre hasn’t played centerfield regularly since 2007. Victorino remains the everyday CF for the Phillies. Pierre is a below-average LF, with a poor arm and range. Victorino is an excellent CF, at least league average. He has had no errors this year or last. The advanced metrics, which aren’t that great yet, generally don’t like Pierre and find Victorino OK. If Pierre would be brought in to play CF for the Reds, it would be a nightly hold-your-breath situation.
Juan Pierre has hit his one home run this year, Shane Victorino has hit eight (same as Drew Stubbs) and would probably hit about that many the second half. Victorino did hit 31 in 2010. But it’s not just in the home run category where Pierre is lacking. He only has five doubles this year. He’s basically a singles hitter. Victorino has 12 (Stubbs 9). So don’t expect Pierre to drive in any runs from first base, or himself.
4. Stolen Bases
This is a drastically over-valued quality, to begin with. Stealing bases risks not only losing a base-runner, but losing an out. A high success rate is important to make SB worthwhile. Pierre has 20 SB this year, Victorino has 19 and Stubbs 16. Yes, Pierre has only been caught 3 times this year (Victorino 2, Stubbs 4). But you should know that last year, Pierre was caught 17 times out of 44 attempts, so he may not be able to sustain his current success rate. It’s certainly an aberration over his career, over which he has been caught about 1/4 of the time (574 SB, 193 CS). Victorino (and Stubbs) can probably steal as many bases as Pierre, or at least close to it.
Juan Pierre would certainly fit in the Reds clubhouse with his plate approach. His career BB% is 5.7%, which puts him well below league average. Zack Cozart is currently walking at a 5.8% rate. Drew Stubbs (8.9%) is a walk machine compared to Pierre. And that’s not even all the bad news. This year, Pierre’s BB% has fallen to 4.7%, which happens to players who are losing their swing speed (cough, cough, Scott Rolen, cough). How low is 4.7% for a walk-rate? Chris Heisey (4.5%) low. Pierre would have the lowest walk-rate of any Reds starter and that’s saying something.
Pierre’s plate discipline is showing tell-tale signs of decline. His O-Swing rate (percentage of times the batter swings at a pitch outside the strike zone) has shot up from 27.6% last year to 33.9% this year. Over 30% O-Swing you’re usually looking at power hitters, like Phillips, Frazier, Ludwick etc. (JoeyMVP has a team-low 22% O-Swing). But with Pierre, you get zero power from his lack of discipline.
Keep in mind the importance of walking to OBP. Players go through slumps in batting average all the time. If their walk-rate is an important part of their OBP, then their offensive contribution doesn’t suffer as much. But if their OBP is made up to a large degree by their AVG, as it is with players like Pierre (and Heisey, and Phillips and Cozart and …) then the offense suffers from inconsistency. Really, the very last thing the erratic Reds offense needs right now is another hitter who doesn’t walk.
Shane Victorino’s walk-rate is 8.5% (right at league average) and was 9.4% last year. I’m guessing in a lead-off role, it would be above league average. And his strike out rate is about 11%. Both he and Pierre (5%) have an edge over Stubbs (27%) there.
The main superficial case to make for Pierre is looking at his current OBP and concluding “he gets on base.” Last night, Marty Brenemann, dabbling in advanced statistics, mistakenly quoted Pierre’s slugging percentage (.380) as his OBP instead of his current actual OBP (.349). Marty thought .380 would really look good at the top of the Reds lineup, and it would, if it were accurate, which it isn’t.
Let’s take a closer look at Pierre’s OBP. Again, it depends primarily on his AVG (.312) because he rarely walks. Last year, for example, Pierre hit .279 for the White Sox with a .329 OBP. Remember, he’s walking 20% less this year. So, for Pierre to maintain a decent OBP, he needs to bat around .300. Will he be able to do that? He hasn’t for a couple years. He hasn’t even hit .280 since 2009. A regression for Pierre would not be unexpected. His BABIP (batting average for balls in play) is extremely high (.326) compared to his previous two full seasons (.294 and .294).
The painful example of Willy Taveras is probably worth repeating here. Taveras had a career walk-rate (5.1%) similar to Pierre’s. So his OBP depended on his AVG in the same way. Playing for the Rockies in 2007, Taveras had an incredible (in the bad way) year, with a BABIP of .370. In other words, his balls fell in for hits at a crazy lucky rate. That BABIP produced an AVG of .320 and an OBP of .367. The Reds apparently looked at that OBP and concluded they had found their lead-off hitter. The warning signs were there, however. In 2008 for the Rockies, Taveras’ BABIP returned to normal (.296) producing an AVG of .251 and OBP of .308. The Reds said they believed the numbers form 2007 and signed Taveras to a two-year deal. The resulting horror: .277 BABIP, .240 AVG, .275 OBP.
Juan Pierre has a longer, better track record than Taveras, but at his age and with the red flags of his declining walk-rate and rising O-Swing, you have to be concerned that his second half of the year might be Taveras-like.
Shane Victorino’s BABIP this year (.266) is well below his career rate (.296) so there is plenty of reason to expect he’ll improve on his .248 AVG in the second half of the year. He hit .279 last year.
Juan Pierre, even at his best, would offer the Reds a free-swinging, singles-hitting lead-off hitter who can steal bases. No power and negative run prevention. If the Reds benched Ludwick to play him (doubtful) the hit to the offense would be tremendous. If the Reds benched Stubbs to play him (more likely) we’d see ghastly defense in the middle of the OF, less power, about the same SB and a bit more OBP. But, there is a large risk that the Reds won’t be getting Pierre at his best. It would quickly turn into pure, awful subtraction by addition. Given Pierre’s age, declining plate discipline and lucky hitting, Walt Jocketty may end up giving Dusty Baker another Willy Taveras.
A toy the Reds manager will stubbornly play and lead-off every single night. Into oblivion.
Shane Victorino would certainly play CF for the Reds. He could bat first or second. He offers the same power and SB potential as Drew Stubbs, likely without the slumps. Victorino’s defense wouldn’t hurt, either. He’d probably get on base at a .335-.340 rate. Whether you think we should trade for him, and how much we should give up, depends on how much of an improvement over Drew Stubbs’ OBP you think that would be.