Epic Fail: Part 1 - Juan Pierre

Epic fail is a series discussing and analyzing questionable decisions of management ranging from letting a player go after an above average producing year and/or failing to develop talent.

This is Part 1 - Juan Pierre

I remember a couple things about Juan Pierre. First, being in the 2003 postseason against the Cubs and how he was a scrappy player who could bunt - BUNT - for a hit by using his speed and then steal second base anytime he wanted. It seemed like he was always in scoring position. If the Marlins didn't have Juan Pierre, they don't win that series against the Cubs.

I always thought to myself "Where's OUR Juan Pierre"?

Fast forward to the 2005 off season, the Cubs traded three pitchers for Juan Pierre and I thought, "Awesome, just the guy we need. Great leadoff hitter, and great speed". And then I started to dream of post season success (that was my mistake).

But alas, it was not meant to be. Derek Lee suffered an injury and was out for most of the season and the Cubs tanked. They could not replace DLee's MVP caliber numbers from 2005.

And after 2006, Juan Pierre was gone along with our leadoff hitter (which has yet to be effectively filled in the lineup).


So what went wrong with Pierre? In my opinion, absolutely nothing. He produced exactly what the league, fans and management expected him to produce; hit, get on base, steel bases. Yes, he had the speed to play CF but he had below average arm. His speed contributed to a decent UZR in CF But there was a bigger reason why the Cubs let him go and that reason was to free up money (and an outfield position) for Alfonso Soriano.

Is the run at Soriano to blame? Depends on who you ask. If I was the Cubs, I would've signed Soriano as well (I think most teams would've). He just came off of a 40/40 season in Washington and his value was skyrocketing. Would I have signed him to that lengthy/pricey of a deal (8 years/$136 million)? Absolutely not. A contract of 3 years with an option of a fourth was fair on both sides. But then again, we all have perfect vision in hindsight.

So who was the better player? This is subject to interpretation. As of now, it is my opinion that Pierre is the better player. The days of Soriano hitting 40 home runs and stealing 40 bases are over. In fact, he hasn't stolen more than 20 bases since the '06 season with the Nationals (in which he had 41). True, Soriano does have the better SLG%, no doubt.

But a closer look at the stats determine that a comparison of Soriano and Juan Pierre is warranted:

OBP Avg (2002-2009)
Soriano: .330
Pierre: .343
Edge: Pierre

SLG Avg (2002-2009)
Soriano: .547
Pierre: .367
Edge: Soriano

Stolen bases Avg (2002-2009)
Soriano: 27
Pierre: 51
Edge: Pierre

Stolen bases Total (2002-2009)
Soriano: 212
Pierre: 406
Edge: Pierre

UZR Avg (2002-2009)
Soriano 2B: -10.6
Soriano LF: 4.4
Pierre LF: 2.5
Pierre CF: 5
Edge: Hmmm...this is a little harder to calculate due to the fact that all positions aren't created equal. We might have to contribute their ARM and RngR ratings to contribute. I won't get into too many details but I will say that Soriano's strengths defensively are in his arm (even though he had a not so good performance in 2009) whereas Pierre's are in his legs. One would argue that the Pierre has more experience in the outfield because that is his natural position whereas Soriano's natural position was second base (where ironically, he has his worst UZR rating of his career). So who's the better defender? I'll leave that decision up to you.

WAR Avg (2002-2009)
Soriano: 3.4
Pierre: 2.2
Edge: Soriano

Dollars Avg (2002-2009)
Soriano: 11.5
Pierre: 7.5
Edge: Soriano

Salary Avg (2002-2009)*
Soriano: 8.2 mill
Pierre: 4.9 mill
Edge: Pierre
*Juan Pierre made 10 million in 2009, Soriano 17 million.

Number of seasons where Dollars exceeded Salary
Soriano: 5 (02,03,04,06,07)
Pierre: 5 (02,03,04,05,06)
Edge: Draw

So was the release of Pierre worth losing speed and a legitimate lead off hitter for Soriano's contract? Only time will tell. Soriano does bring a certain amount of power in the lineup, but Pitchers are throwing him less fast balls (57% in 2003 to 46% in 2009) and more sliders (15% in 2003 to 25% in 2009). And you can clearly tell from the graph above that his SLG% is declining. His power is meaningless if his skills are diminishing.

Dave Cameron from Fangraphs had this to say about Juan Pierre. Although I agree with some of his argument, I do have to disagree with his statement that "he doesn’t belong in the starting line-up for any team trying to win". Personally, I would have taken Juan Pierre in a heartbeat this past season over any other outfielder we had. And considering the Cubs ranked last in stolen bases in 2009, his speed would have been a valuable asset.

NOTE- Since 2003, the Cubs had 8 stolen bases in 18 playoff games. Five of those stolen bases came in the 2003 National League Division Series against Atlanta. So minus the Atlanta series, the Cubs had 3 stolen bases in 13 playoff games.

Speed has been as elusive for the Cubs as a World Series championship.

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  1. Excellent inspection of these two players! Though I'm inclined to side with Dave Cameron (whom I have serious man-crush on) in that Pierre is too inconsistent to steal away a starting position from any current starter in the Dodger's outfield, I'm pretty confident he could have been an incredible tool for us this year, considering our outfield status (i.e. not great).

    For me, the cheaper price tag makes a huge difference, though... Oh well...