Killing Me Softly…

In his column on July 6th, 2007, L.A. Times staff writer Kevin Baxter had a Q&A Session with Dodger fans. Here was one of the questions submitted, this one by Harold Albert…

“With James Loney taking over at first base, do you suppose there is any thought of giving Matt Kemp that same opportunity in center field? Juan Pierre has been a disappointment, with his low OBP and extremely weak arm the biggest concerns. Kemp seems a much more patient hitter these days and he might address all of those issues while adding a great deal of power to the mix as well.”

Good question and good points. Since Matt Kemp has been called up in early June, he has been – along with James Loney, Russell Martin and Luis Gonzalez – one of the best contributors to the Dodgers’ weak offense. Even though it is a small sample size, 84 at-bats to be exact, here are Kemp’s numbers…

BA: .357
EqA: .311
HR: 3
OBP: .402
SLG: .500
OPS+: 136

However, despite Kemp’s impressive numbers, he still remains in a right field platoon with Andre Ethier. Ethier, while not hitting the way he did when he first burst on to the scene in 2006, where he hit well over .300, has still put up respectable numbers. Not great, in fact, very mediocre:

BA: .282
EqA: .270
HR: 7
OBP: .348
SLG: .435
OPS+: 104

Great numbers? Again, far from it, but they are decent for a guy whose playing time has been limited. However, if Ethier was given the job in right field, thus sliding Kemp over to center, this would knock Juan Pierre out of the lineup. Pierre, unlike Kemp and Ethier, has been terrible. The numbers:

BA: .282
HR: 0 (though, this doesn’t matter too much for a #2 hitter)
OBP: .311 (this, however, does)
SLG: .338 (and this)
OPS+: 75 (and this)
EqA: .242 (and, oh yeah, this too)
SB: 34 (and this, though that isn’t actually bad)

So, naturally, it would make sense to start both the superior Ethier and Kemp, right? After all, not only would it help the power issue, it would also improve production. Right?

Well, let’s see what Baxter has to say…

“Matt Kemp can play center field; in his first season in the majors he played more games there than anywhere else.”


“But the move you advocate would basically be trading Juan Pierre for Andre Ethier”

You got it! Where do I sign?!

“And I don’t think that’s something that would help much.”

Huh? What the… O.K., I’m a little startled, I need a moment.

(processes information how an inadequate singles hitter is better than a decent, more productive hitter with more power)

. . .

O.K., better. Now let’s play a game! Let’s pretend that Andre and Juan are on different teams and me and Kevin are GM’s about ready to trade the two, as he said.

Me: O.K., I want to trade Pierre. Who are you willing to give up?

Baxter: I’d be willing to give up Ethier. Even though he has more home runs, a higher SLG%, OPS, OBP, and leads Pierre in most categories, and is much better defensively, he just can’t bunt like Juan does… and Juan shows up to the park every day! He is exciting and, hey, did you know he even has his name in a rap song?! He’s really a baseball player.

Me: O.K., I’ll take Ethier. We have a deal?

Baxter: We sure do!


There has to be more to this. Come on, Kevin… convince me!

“While Ethier, who would take over in right if Kemp was moved to center, is an outstanding defensive player who clearly has more power than Pierre, Pierre’s speed and ability to bunt changes the Dodgers’ offense.”

Actually, this is kind of true. When Pierre gets on base, he can wreck havoc – he does have tremendous speed – and when he shows it, it really can impact an inning. However, there’s just one teensy weensy caveat to all of this…


His OBP has barely been hovering around .300 – or where I hearby dub it: The Pierre Line – this season (currently at .311) and in 2006 had an OBP of .330 (in Chicago) and in 2005 an OBP of .326 (in Florida). So, in the past few years, he has had difficulty getting on base. With an OBP of .311 this year – .298 on the road – this does not justify him, frankly, to even be in the lineup, much less hit second and get even more undeserving at-bats. His low OBP kills way too many rallies. He is not productive. From 2002-2003 and 2006 and through this year, he has led the league in outs. In 2004 and 2005? He ranked second. But let’s see what logical and consistent reasoning Baxter has in his assertions…

“Remember his bunt double the other night?”

Yup, I remember it. And it was awesome too… but an incredibly lucky – and rare – hit due to the Braves’ infield playing in on him.

This is akin to saying: “Hey guys, we should start running Kent and Gonzo A LOT more. Remember their back to back triples in Tampa Bay?!”

“And he’s among the major league leaders in stolen bases.”

Very true. You know what else is true? He’s also among the major league leaders in getting caught stealing. In fact, from 2003-2006, he has ranked above everyone in Major League Baseball in getting thrown out. His lifetime stolen base percentage is 74%; not all that hot, although, to his credit, that’s gone up a little bit this year. However, he has also ranked in the top three every year since 2003 in most at-bats per season. So yeah, those numbers look pretty cool on the surface, but when you get nearly 700 at-bats per season to get on base – which, again, he doesn’t do well – and are constantly trying to steal, those numbers will be up and suddenly they aren’t really that impressive.

What else ya got, Kev-O?

“That too is a valuable asset given the Dodgers’ lack of power and need to manufacture runs — not just for the steals but for the havoc speed can wreak.”

Before I tear into this statement faster than Olmedo Saenz does a hot, juicy steak, I just want to re-quote two lines again…

You said earlier that:

“Ethier, [. . .] clearly has more power than Pierre”

Right. Yet Pierre needs to play because…

“That too is a valuable asset given the Dodgers’ lack of power and need to manufacture runs

So, let me get this straight. Because of the Dodgers’ lack of power and difficulty to manufacture runs, that’s why Grady Little should bench the guy with more power and production?!

And even with that aside, Pierre manufactures runs as well as he raps (which brings us to our first “Flashback Moment Of The Day”). Let’s compare how his peers have done at creating runs for their team. Keep note of the plate appearances:

Ichiro Suzuki

AB: 357
RC: 67
RC27: 7.60
OBP: .410

Jose Reyes

AB: 358
RC: 60
RC27: 6.18
OBP: .387

Hanley Ramirez

AB: 353
RC: 71
RC27: 7.73
OBP: .385

And just for good measure…

Kenny Lofton

AB: 269
RC: 45
RC27: 6.11
OBP: .378

So, with Pierre’s value to the team, he must rank right there with his peers? Surely, with the way he changes the Dodgers offense, he should be right up there. Well…

Juan Pierre

AB: 373
RC: 38
RC27: 3.53
OBP: .311

38. His ability to bunt and run have helped create… 38 freaking runs, and in 373 at-bats, second only in the league to Jimmy Rollins who has 388 at-bats. Even sadder is that everyone sans Lofton on that list – and probably because Kenny has 104 less at-bats than Pierre – is outperforming Juan by nearly double in less at-bats. Also, just to note, Ethier has an RC of 37, an RC27 of 5.13, a higher EqA, a much higher OBP, SLG, OPS and almost everything else this side of stolen bases and singles… and, oh yeah… he’s done that in 94 less at-bats.

And for your traditionalists out there, who like using runs as a statistic to go by, (which I don’t, as it’s more a byproduct of how the guys who drive you in do… but some still use it) guess how many times he’s been in the top 10 in that category?

O.K., get your hand and put all your fingers on your thumb… there… now see that zero starting to form?

This doesn’t even count the God-awful defense that Pierre displays by giving up even more runs with his glove and non-existent arm. Have you ever seen “The Sandlot”? Do you remember when Scotty goes on to the field for the first time and they ask him to throw the ball back and he puts ALL of his effort and might into it and… and…

It goes like five feet? THAT’S Juan Pierre’s defense in a nutshell!

In fact, that’s my new nickname for him! Smalls!

But wait… Baxter isn’t done yet!

“I talked to some opposing players and even though Pierre’s numbers may not be equal to some he has put up in the past, these opponents tell me he’s still a player they fear because they don’t know what he’s going to do at the plate.”

Ooo, ooo… pick me, I know what he’ll do! PLEASE, pick me!

(pushes button)

Alex Trebek: O.K., what is your answer?

Me: O.K., I’ll take a stab at it. Hmmm… let’s see: O.K., he doesn’t hit home runs, he doesn’t really have any extra base hits (tied for last amongst all NL outfielders), he doesn’t walk, he doesn’t manufacture runs for his team and… oh yeah… he hardly gets on base. Hmmm… my guess is, Alex…

What is he’ll either hit a weak ground ball or flyout. Simply: he’ll suck.

Alex Trebek: That is correct, Sherlock!

“An outfield of Luis Gonzalez, Kemp and Ethier would be very good and I don’t think the Dodgers would hesitate to use it.

Three problems with this: #1. we’re already into the All-Star break and there hasn’t been any indication of the team moving Pierre anywhere.

#2: Once Miguel Tejada went on the DL, Pierre now leads all active players with the most consecutive games played. Plus, in an effort to put the team and winning first, Grady has already shown that even on the rare day that Pierre does get off, he’ll still get into the game to preserve his streak.

And #3…

2007 salaries:

Andre Ethier = $387,000
Juan Pierre = $7.5 million

I think I finally understand the pain in saying “four more years”…