Baseball Toaster Cub Town
The Logic of Hackery
2006-02-23 07:38
by Derek Smart

One of the issues I, and a lot of others, have with Juan Pierre is the fact that he doesn't walk a lot, thus making his OBP - the thing that drives his offensive value - subject to the relatively capricious whims of batting average. But today in the Daily Herald, he has an interesting quote on that subject buried in the obligatory puff piece.

"I'm not going to be a guy probably to walk a lot because it only makes sense that they want me to swing a bat," Pierre said of opposing pitchers. "You don't walk me to get to Lee or Ramirez or walk me for me to get on and steal. So they're going to try to make me swing the bat.

"I've got to be a guy to zone up a lot of pitches. Don't swing wild. Whether it's a walk, hit, hit-by-pitch, the ultimate goal is to get on base. Being a guy who doesn't walk a lot, I know that I've got to put the ball in play and bunt and do those type things."

It's an interesting idea, and one that has some merit, at least when thinking about it in the abstract. Here's a guy who has no power, so there's no need to be careful with him from that perspective, and he doesn't strike out a lot, so there's not as much to be gained by trying to whiff him with stuff off the plate. It, therefore, makes some sense that pitchers would be more likely to come right at him, since the lowest risk method they'd have of getting an out would be from a ball in play.

Now, I don't think it's that simple, as there's a "chicken and egg" idea looming in the background, and the answer is way more complicated than "pitchers control walks," or "hitters control walks." It's a symbiotic relationship with huge complexities, not a simple "input A produces output B" scenario.

Besides, it's not like Pierre sees a lot of pitches - the 3.69 he saw per at bat last year was his career high by a wide margin, and even that would only put him in the Jacque Jones patience class - so one has to wonder how many "pitcher's pitches" he's putting into play early in the count simply because he doesn't think the guy will walk him anyway.

After all, if the hitter can't hurt you with the longball, you as the pitcher can afford to get behind in the count early if your attempt to make him swing at your pitch fails, which is where I think Pierre's logic breaks down - they don't have to be careful, but they can afford to get cute. So, yes, Juan, they want you to swing, but that doesn't mean it's a good pitch to hit, and really, just because they're trying to make you swing the bat doesn't mean you have to oblige them.

2006-02-23 07:41:35
1.   Derek Smart
I'd also like to point out that if I'm starting to write this sort of thing now, when there hasn't even been an exhibition game yet, I can only imagine my red-faced apoplexy come June.
2006-02-23 07:50:54
2.   Ali Nagib
You also have to consider what a change in approach by Pierre would do to his other stats, particularly batting average. I'd much rather have him hit .305/.361 like he did in 2003 than .270/.345, even though he would have more walks in the latter scenario. I know that in general batting average fluctuates more from year to year than walk rates do, but you can't automatically assume that by improving plate discipline and drawing more walks that it won't affect a guy's other skills. It's always better to have more walks than fewer, unless it means having fewer hits as well.
2006-02-23 08:12:09
3.   Derek Smart
True, but I'd have to think that if an increase in patience were exercised and his pitch recognition abilities were up to it, that he would actually get better pitches to hit, and hopefully drive his average up, or keep it at or near its previous levels. There's no way to know, obviously - patience could lead to passivity and, like you said, negatively affect his average - but I'm not asking him to become Mark Bellhorn and wait for the perfect offering, just to exercise a little more restraint which, hopefully, would make his whole offensive game better.
2006-02-23 09:01:37
4.   monkeyball
There are books on hitters, and you have to assume that sometimes the book says, "Get ahead early on this guy." So if (for arguments sake) that's the book on Pierre, than it makes sense that he swing early.

Having said that though, what Pierre is saying sounds like a cop-out. Sure he's gonna see more strikes than D Lee, but there are plenty of pitchers in baseball who can come through with those four balls in spite of what their brain is telling them they should do, and if Pierre is not getting his fair share of those, he's not really doing his job.

2006-02-23 09:39:02
5.   steffens
Juan Pierre, meet Eddie Stanky:

Very little power, and didn't hit for average all that well. Why would a pitcher not just throw strikes to him and worry about the hitters in the middle of the lineup? And yet he averaged 128 walks per 162 games.

Now, not everyone can be an Eddie Stanky, but Pierre assumes too much.

2006-02-23 11:48:13
6.   rynox
Two things; First, I can't wait to spend the season defending Pierre. I liked the idea of the Cubs picking him up ever since the rumors started last summer. Mostly, it is the intangibles: he seems like a good guy, hard worker, and has lots of energy on the field, blah blah blah.

Also, here's a look at a comparison of Pierre to other leadoff-type guys:

2005 (BB/TPA)
Jeter - 10.2%
Furcal - 9.0%
Podsednik - 8.3%
Rollins - 6.4%
Pierre - 5.7%

2005 (K/TPA)
Pierre - 6.3%
Rollins - 9.7%
Furcal - 11.3%
Podsednik - 13.2%
Jeter - 15.6%

2005 (H/TPA)
Jeter - 26.9%
Rollins - 26.8%
Pods - 25.9%
Furcal - 25.4%
Pierre - 25.2%

So, while, at least statistically, he's not the best leadoff guy in the game, he does "hang" with them. I think the Pierre/Furcal comparisons are interesting.

What concerns me the most is not his swinging tendancies, because as we can see from the above stats he's not too horribly far off from what +$15M/year Furcal can do... it is what he is doing the other 62.8% of the time. His 1.72 GO/AO means that he grounds out a lot. Since his OBP is so dependant on his hits, Wrigley's tall grass may lower his OBP.

Compared to others:
Rollins - 1.06 GO/AO
Furcal - 1.14 GO/AO
Podsednik - 1.60 GO/AO
Pierre - 1.72 GO/AO
Jeter - 2.39 GO/AO

It may also help him if he can beat out infield hits by deadening the ball on the infield. Time will tell.

The second thing I wanted to say is just get a head start on stating the unimportance of winning spring training games. Next week the Cubs will begin exhibition games and while it's fun to dream when your team does well, and easy to get discouraged when your team does bad, just remember spring training is the time for teams to try out their youngsters, to see how they react against major league pitching, see how young pitchers handle game pressure, etc.

In other words, don't use the Cubs spring training record as a barometer for how the rest of the season will go.

I just wanted to say that because I remember the frenzy people get in every year during spring training.

2006-02-23 16:27:06
7.   David
I agree with Derek. JP's excuse is lame. If he could take more pitches and get his OBP up, he'd be more valuable. Others have done so.

However, we don't know what taking more pitches would do to his batting average. Could he successfully change his style? From his comment, it sounds as if he doesn't intend to try.

2006-02-23 21:04:34
8.   chris in illinois
I'll file Mr. Pierre's comments under one of my favorite analogies:

"Just because a guy can fly a plane, it doesn't mean you want him repairing one, likewise, just because a guy can hit a 95 MPH fastball, it doesn't mean he understands baseball"----see Morgan, Joe for more info.

2006-02-23 21:09:56
9.   markp
There are a great many examples of guys with no power that drew a great deal of walks. (Likewise there are quite a few power hitters who didn't draw that many walks.)
Walking a lot is due to a combination of patience and strike zone judgement.
2006-02-23 22:30:14
10.   Jason R
I'd like Pierre to take more pitches and rely less on BA to drive his OBP. However, I really don't think it is that easy. Not everyone can easily identify balls and strikes and each player has to work with what he has.

If Pierre can't easy discern between balls and strikes, then we should just be happy he's able to put most pitches in play where the defenders ain't.

2006-02-24 07:01:45
11.   Derek Smart
I didn't mean to imply it was easy, nor did I mean to imply that Pierre was capable of making the adjustment, just that his logic for doing what he does is fundamentally flawed, and that if he could make the fix, he and the team would be better off.
2006-02-24 10:08:10
12.   PBL1211
There's an article at baseballanalysts that has some interesting information about pitches per plate appearance, taking pitches, making contact, etc. Pierre is mentioned a few times. He rarely swings at the first pitch of an at-bat, and when he does swing, he usually makes contact. I don't know if this contributes to the discussion, but I thought that I'd throw it out there. The article also mentions Derrek Lee and compares his 2004 and 2005 seasons. Here's the link:

2006-02-25 02:52:47
13.   Murray
During Eddie Stanky's career, pitchers as a whole walked a lot more batters than they do now.
2006-02-25 04:04:16
14.   shuuto
I agree with rynox's comments comparing Furcal and Pierre. Their numbers are actually very comparable, as they have a similar number of games played and AB's. Pierre actually has a better career OBP% than Furcal (.355 to .348), but his career .375 SLG% really drives his value down. Furcal does most things a little better than Pierre, but not so much so that he's worth $7M-$8M more per year. Furcal has a lifetime OPS+ of 96, and he got $13M/year. Insane. The more I think about it, the more I like seeing him in Dodger blue...

I think Pierre will have a good year. He's a good player, and the Cubs aren't over-paying for him. He might not walk enough, but he does have three 200-hit seasons in six years. He's doing something right...

2006-02-26 07:53:34
15.   The Real Neal

Eddy Stanky was 5'8" and stole fewer bases in his career than Pierre does in a single season. A better comparison would have been Brett Butler - also smaller and a les acomplished base stealer, however.


Pierre's 3 Year Splits:
.303 .354 .378
Count 0-0 - At Bats 162
.358 .373 .389
After 0-1 - At Bats 1061
.287 .309 .363
Count 1-0 - At Bats 779
.312 .405 .397

Both the most frequent occurence on pich 1 and the worst result is taking a strike. If he takes a strike his OBP is .309, if he put the ball into play .373. Therefore he's already taking the correct approach in his plate appearances (putting the first pitch into play one time every three games doesn't seem unwantedly high). Unless you think that he is getting a significantly lower percentage of first pitch strikes than 61% that number indicates. The number aboves actually indicate he is taking too many first pitch strikes, he should actually 'go Nomar' more often!

2006-02-28 10:34:22
16.   Derek Smart
I'll admit, trying to find meaning in micro stats like that makes my head hurt. I think it's worthwhile, but I have a hard time doing it.

Still, I do find it interesting that he starts off in the hole so often. I don't know that it means he should swing more, though. He may, in fact, already be doing what I'd like, which is to lay off pitcher's pitches, even if they're strikes, but it's hard to know without closer observation. I'm very curious to see what I think of his approach once I see it every day.

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