Remember Juan Pierre? The guy who’s the definition of consistent? Yeah, that’s him. He now resides in Miami with a bleak Marlins’ crop of players. At 34 years-of-age, he is not entirely irrelevant and could turn out to be a worthwhile signing for the Marlins. Yes I know, he’s not the big bopper that garners the media and headlines, but his career isn’t one to disregard.
Let me enlighten you. For Pierre, it all started in Colorado where broke into the majors at 22 years of age, and instantly caught the eye of the baseball world thanks to a solid rookie year with the Rockies. After spending some time as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement, he eventually overtook Colorado’s leadoff spot. He finished the season with a triple slash of .310/.353/.320, and swiped a modest seven bases.
Pierre’s noteworthy first-year earned him some votes for the Rookie of the Year Award, in which he finished sixth in. Rafael Furcal won the coveted honor with 144 total points and 25 first place votes, while Rick Ankiel, Jay Payton, Pat Burrell, Mitch Meluskey, and Lance Berkman rounded out the top six.
In 2001 and 2002, Pierre steadily built on his early career success, as he slowly became the ideal leadoff man. In his sophomore campaign (2001), he led the NL in at-bats per strikeout (21.3), and compiled a .327 batting average, good enough for a top 10 ranking. Pierre’s OBP also ranked amongst the leaders, while his 46 stolen bases topped the leader boards.
Pierre’s 2001 season was seemingly the first year that pundits became aware of his speed and exemplary bat control. Sure, he has never and still doesn’t hit for extra bases (has led the MLB in singles six times), but he simply puts the bat on the ball and creates havoc with his neck-breaking speed. Eventually, this area of his game became his niche, and still is today.
Take a glance around some of game’s best leadoff hitters today. There are hardly any players that resemble Pierre back when he was in his prime. Jose Reyes is one, and perhaps Angel Pagan can be added to that list too. But there aren’t a ton of leadoff hitters that have those those two invaluable tools in their toolbox.
But back to his stolen base numbers. Pierre stole 47 bases in 2002, in 2003 he stole a league-leading 65 bases, in 2004 he stole 45, and you pretty much get the trend. The speedster has stolen over 60 bases in a season three times, and currently ranks 19th on the all-time leader board with 591.
Moreover, he is first on the current active leaders list. It should be noted that he leads the actives by quite a hefty total, as Pierre has a good 100-plus bases on Ichiro Suzuki, the current second place holder.
Pierre is likely far from invincible. though. He’s probably going to see a regression in his 51 stolen bases average over 162 games given his weakening legs. But don’t assume too much, as he did steal a career-best 68 bases in 2010, which wasn’t too long ago if you think about it. Most recently, however, he stole 37 bases in 2012 and was caught only seven times, while he still hit a lofty .307.
Better yet, he generally plays in a good fraction of the 162 total; this will certainly help him as he aims for a top 10 spot on the all-time stolen bases leader board. Moreover, he has played in all 162 four times, and has never played in less than 119 games, with the exception of his rookie season, of course. Simply put, you can pencil him in for at least 150 games if need be.
How can he earn a top 10 spot? Time to bring out the calculator. Let’s assume that he continues to average roughly 35 stolen bases per year, which would also imply that he maintains a stable OBP. At 34, he probably has a few more go-arounds. Perhaps five would be the maximum numbers of seasons left of efficient Stolen Base production.
At the pace of 35 swipes annually, he would steal exactly 175 bases over the next half a decade, which would increase his total to 766. Obviously, saying he will steal 175 bases as he climbs into his late 30’s is going out on a limb. So, let’s subtract a few, and say he will steal 140 bases over the next five years.
Now, he would have to average at least 33 stolen bases a year to overtake Vince Coleman, who has 752 for the sixth all-time spot. And that would be pushing the limits, as Pierre would be just four SB ahead of Coleman.
Either way, Pierre should allocate himself in the top 10, which would be quite a feat for such an unappreciated player, who isn’t too far off from the great Ichiro.
Below is a table comparing Pierre and Ichiro through the 2000-2009 seasons. Note that Ichiro didn’t break the majors until 2001. So, he’s technically one year behind Pierre, but as you can see, he has compiled about 500 more At-Bats due to his instant placement in the Mariners’ lineup.
Obviously, the WAR differential pops out on the screen. But this is mainly due to Ichiro’s prowess to hit for extra-bases, while Pierre is solely a singles hitter. As you can see, though, Pierre has a good 100 stolen bases on Ichiro, their batting averages are similar, and their OPS’s aren’t far off either.
Also noteworthy, Pierre was second to only Ichiro in hits through 2000-2009, and he lead the NL in hits in 2004 and 2006. To put things into perspective, Ichiro should eventually make it to the Hall of Fame. Pierre? Not so much. Ichiro also has his legacy in Seattle as another factor working in his favor, while Pierre has played for six teams and counting.
So now do you think Juan Pierre is unappreciated? I hope so. If not, you have reasons to justify your case. He’s never been much of a power hitter, and therefore doesn’t capture much national exposure that translates into constant attention.
Still, one can’t deny his mastery in the stolen bases department.