Why Juan Pierre Can Help the White Sox

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The trade between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox, sending Juan Pierre to the Sox with cash ($10.5 million) for a couple of minor leaguers could be an immense help to the Sox in a weak division.  They fill two needs with one move by acquiring a natural lead-off hitter and a solid left-fielder.  Pierre is a career .301 hitter and has more career walks (340) than strikeouts (337), although he doesn’t do either very often. From 2001 to 2007, Pierre lead the National League in at-bats per strikeout. His ability to put the ball in play and make things happen with his speed could be exactly what the normally slow and power-hitting White Sox need to take it to the next level.

Once on base, Pierre knows what to do.  His 459 career stolen bases currently rank him first among active players.  Despite the decline in playing time over the last few years with the addition of Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers, Pierre has continued to perform and has been extremely durable.  From 2003-2007, Pierre played in all 162 regular season games.

Pierre is also an asset defensively with a career .990 fielding percentage.  Last year with Manny’s suspension, Pierre split time between center field and left field, committing only one error in 158 chances. His UZR in left field last year ranked 7th in the NL at 6.7. 

With a 1.8 WAR value last year, Pierre wasn’t overly spectacular, but he was solid.  Along with the other moves that Kenny Williams has made dating back to last year (Peavy, Rios) and so far this year (Putz, Teahen, Jones), I think the White Sox are positioning themselves for a solid 2010.    

Perhaps the highlight of the deal is the cash that came with Pierre that will pay for all of his 2010 salary and a hefty chunk of his 2011 salary. 

Williams has taken some flack for picking up used outfielders for bargain basement prices and hoping that they will perform (with the exception of the Rios contract), but I like the moves.  Andruw Jones was signed for cheap, Pierre is now under contract for two years for relatively cheap, and they have Rios who can be a major league outfielder, albeit an overpaid one.  If Carlos Quentin can bounce back from a disappointing year, the White Sox have a legitimate starting outfield with a potentially big bat off the bench in Jones. 

Of all the outfield acquisitions that Williams has put together in the last few months, I think I like the Pierre one the best.  He fits more needs for the White Sox than the others and gives them a solid lead-off hitter. 

A look at each of the new outfielder’s respective 2009 years:

Pierre:    145G 380AB 57R .308AVG/.365OBP/.392SLG 0HR 31RBI 30SB 105OPS+

Quentin: 99G 351AB 47R .236AVG/.323OBP/.456SLG 21HR 56RBI 3SB 99OPS+

Jones:     82G 281AB 43R .214AVG/.323OBP/.459SLG 17HR 43RBI 5SB 100OPS+                    

Rios:       149G 582AB 63R .247AVG/.296OBP/.395SLG 17HR 71RBI 24SB 81OPS+

Nothing too staggering there except for maybe the complete under-performance of Rios for the $6.4 million he was paid.  Now, a look at some of their career numbers based on 162 game averages:

Pierre:     .308/.365/.392 1 HR 44 RBI 52 SB 85 OPS+

Quentin: .254/.349/.491 31 HR 97 RBI 6 SB 113 OPS+

Jones:     .257/.338/.488 33 HR 99 RBI 12 SB 110 OPS+

Rios:       .281/.330/.444 16 HR 77 RBI 22 SB 102 OPS+

As you can see, none of these guys really had career years last year, but Pierre was probably the closest to his career averages than any of the others.  Obviously I don’t expect all four of these guys to play 162 games, but I feel that the 162 game averages gives you a snap shot of what they’ve done over their respective careers.  This can be a bit misleading, especially in the case of Jones who hasn’t played over 85 games and posted an OPS+ over 90 since 2006 (Last year he only played in 82 games). 

My prediction is that Jones will be a solid bat off the bench as he showed some resurgence in power last year.  Pierre will be a solid lead-off even though his OBP isn’t quite where the White Sox would like a lead-off hitter’s to be.  Quentin will bounce back after a disappointing year and hit closer to his .254 career average with the same pop he’s shown his entire career.  Rios is a huge question mark.  His career numbers aren’t anything spectacular, but like I mentioned, he can be a serviceable major league outfielder if he can bounce back from last year’s dismal performance.