The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


The Killer in Blue

Tuesday's Replacement Level Killers piece was still on my mind when I sat down to write this week's Hit List. Here's what I had to say about the Dodgers:
For those who thought Juan Pierre deserved a spot on the Replacement Level Killers, he was left off due to his surprisingly robust VORP (on the strength of a .367/.405/.443 August) and the team's distance from first place, though his -12 FRAA does keep his WARP at 1.8. A stronger case can be made for the inclusion of Nomar Garciaparra (0.3 VORP, 0.3 WARP), or the team's handling of an eight-man pileup at third base.
Yesterday I came across a piece on Pierre that has me reconsidering my exclusion of him in favor of Andruw Jones (3.1 VORP, 3.0 WARP). The piece is so blatantly idiotic it may deserve a Fire Joe Morgan-esque line-by-line carve-up [late note: great minds, etc.]. Start with the headline: "Pierre not bothered with OBP issues: Center fielder focused on doing little things to help team win." Marge, boil some coffee. And get me something sharp, I'm feeling stabby.
What is it about the on-base percentage that a player like Juan Pierre -- who leads the Dodgers in at-bats, runs scored, hits, stolen bases, triples and games played -- gets knocked for not having his higher than .350?

Pierre has been one of the most consistent players in the Dodgers lineup this season. He plays every day (395 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the Majors), makes diving catches in center field on a regular basis and steals second just about every time he gets on base, yet his OBP evidently isn't cutting it.

...The issue with Pierre is that he doesn't walk. Plain and simple, his OBP suffers because he averages one walk every 21 at-bats. On the season, he has just 24 walks in 510 at-bats, which is the lowest in the Majors.
Even with a torrid August showing, Pierre is hitting .289/.329/.344. So let's start with the fact that on a park- and league-adjusted basis (per, his OBP is 19 points below the .343 average, and his slugging percentage is 89 points below the .435 average. In other words, he's doing neither of the principal things necessary to create runs, getting on base or advancing runners (without using up outs, please).

THAT is why Pierre gets knocked.

That and the goddamned $44 million contract Dodger GM Ned Colletti dished him last winter.

Jeebus Cripes, I'm in one-line paragraph Plaschke mode, ready to disembowel someone and send the entrails to Stupid Flanders.

This is bad. It's not going to end well.

Pierre's Equivalent Average, which places his ability to produce runs on a scale similar to batting average (.260 is the league average), is .247. So he's about halfway between average and replacement level (.230).

In other words, his crippling the offense is why he's getting knocked.
Compared to some of the elite leadoff batters in the game, Pierre's .324 on-base percentage is considerably low. [Jose] Reyes has an OBP of .375, Hanley Ramirez is at .392, Chone Figgins is at .392 and Ichiro is at .396, so the consensus is that a No. 1 or 2 hitter in the lineup needs to have a .350 or higher OBP.
Gee, ya think? Pierre's OBP in the #1 spot is actually just .268, though he's got just 83 plate appearances there. In a move that recalls Seventies style like bad shag carpet, polyester leisure suits, and macrame plant holders, Manager Grady Little actually hits Pierre out of the #2 hole, where Pierre's OBP is still an offense-murdering, soul-curdling .329 in 478 plate appearances. Among the 19 hitters with enough PA in the #1 or #2 spots to qualify for the batting title, only Florida's Dan Uggla, Milwaukee's J.J. Hardy (both .321), Washington's Felipe Lopez (.300) and Houston's Craig Biggio (.294) have lower OBPs atop a lineup. All of them save for the truly hapless Lopez have enough power to put up higher OPSes than the big Juan.

But Pierre does the little things. How little? Futility Infielder's intrepid field reporter Nick Stone interviewed Pierre. Here's what he filed:
"My short at-bats allow me to sneak back into the clubhouse and help put together a really nifty post-game buffet," said the Dodger centerfielder. "I know from experience that it's really nice to come back to the locker room after a close defeat and find personalized place settings, and I think the guys really appreciate my centerpiece designs. Little things like that really do help team morale."

In full-on Martha Stewart mode, Pierre added, "And I also leave inspirational notes for the guys, written inside these handmade cards I do. That and back in spring training, I made some macrame plant holders for the other guys in the lineup. You can see how little things like that really help this ballclub."
In the interest of avoiding this blog entry turning into a death threat to either Pierre or Colletti, I'll stop here. Suffice it to say that under Colletti, this team has about as much idea of how runs are created as your average three-year-old does of where babies come from.

"The Run Stork?" asks the wide-eyed Stupid Flanders.

You can use your imagination to envision how much red I'd spill over these Dodger blues.

• • •

Friday's Hit List went up with a glitch that unfortunately I wasn't aware of until late in the evening. It's been corrected now but in case you were one of the readers who hit it early, the Red Sox entry should have read:
Clay Buchholz makes a solid debut (6 8 4 3 3 5), but he's sent back to Pawtucket, where he'll continue to build on the absurd 164/30 K/BB ratio he's compiled in 117.1 minor-league innings this year; he may be back for a September 1 start. There's more help from the farm as Kevin Cash -- subbing for injured Doug Mirabelli -- catches a Tim Wakefield start with nary a police escort from the airport, a ball rolling to the screen or a world coming to an end. Wakefield continues to bedevil the Rays with a 15-inning scoreless streak; he's 19-2 with a 2.72 ERA against them in his career.
Over and out.

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