Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Should the Nats Pursue Juan Pierre?

Aha! The first hot stove arguments of the year are heating up. Today's WaPo reports that the Nats may consider acquiring Florida Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre to fill the much-needed leadoff role. My colleagues over at Nationals Interest challenge the assumption that Pierre's presence would help the Nationals OBP:

"Here are Pierre's 2005 stats: .271/.322/.349. In 650 at bats, he had only 41 walks. All three of the Nationals' outfielders with the highest number of at bats (with the Nationals) had higher on base percentages than Pierre--Wilkerson, .352; Guillen, .337; Church, .354--and all three had substantially higher slugging percentages--Wilkerson, .405; Guillen, .475; Church, .457."

This is all true...the numbers don't lie, of course! However, it was noted all season that Pierre was having a down year. His numbers were uncharacteristically low given his career stats. Here are Pierre's career averages: .305/.355/.375. While it is true that he doesn't walk a lot (he averages 43 walks per season) he also doesn't strike out a lot (he averages 40 strikeouts per season). Wilkerson, on the other hand, averages 162 strikeouts per season! That's once per game, every game, for his entire career! Wilky averages 93 walks per season.

So let's compare the strikeout to walk ratio of the two: Wilkerson strikes out 1.74 times for each time he draws a walk. Pierre, on the other hand, strikes out 0.93 times for every time he draws a walk. So he may not walk much, but at least he walks more than he strikes out. This is an important statistic for any player, but especially for a leadoff hitter. However, these numbers don't explain why Wilky has a slightly higher OBP than Pierre...on that I have no clue.

But let's look at another important leadoff hitter statistic. Juan Pierre has averaged 51 stolen bases per year for five years. As Barry points out, that's 6 more than the entire Nats team managed all year. So if Pierre gets on base roughly as many times as Wilkerson but steals five times as many bases, that translates to many more runs scored. Pierre's speed will be an even greater asset in cavernous RFK, where triples are an almost nightly occurrence. If Pierre can get on first he's going to have no trouble at all reaching third or scoring in situations where other Nats might get held up at second or third.

The final reason why Pierre makes sense (from an athletic standpoint at least) is that he plays center field! Since Wilson's departure seems imminent, Pierre would fill in nicely. Wilkerson could finally play in left where he feels more at home, bat sixth where some of the pressure would be off, and best of all, the Nats would only be stuck with one horrendous striker-outer on the squad. Juan Pierre would be an exciting and effective addition to the Nats.