In his last 17 games, Juan Pierre is hitting .386/.429/.457.
Maybe June 24 was the turning point for the embattled left fielder. In a 14-inning loss to Washington, Pierre went 0-6 with a walk, lowering his season OPS below .600 for the first time in over a month. It was at this time that calls for Dayan Viciedo to roll into Chicago became the loudest, it also was at this time that Ozzie Guillen's defense of his left fielder became the most fervent.
And then, something happened. Pierre was benched June 25, his first game off in two weeks. On June 26, Pierre went 2-5, with one of those hits being a double.
Since June 26, Pierre has failed to reach base in exactly one start, collecting hits in 15 of those 16 starts.
His season on-base percentage has jumped from .310 to .333. He's stolen five bases while only being thrown out once. Dare I say Juan Pierre has actually played well recently?
Yes. He has.
When the Sox traded for Pierre in December of 2009, we all knew what the team was getting -- a "true leadoff hitter" who will steal a ton of bases, hopefully get on base enough and never hit for any power. Is that ideal? No. Crippling to a team? Also no.
An above-average OBP is all I hoped for out of Pierre. He delivered that in 2010, posting a .341 non-out percentage, 16 points higher than the MLB average. In 2011, his .333 OBP sits at 14 points higher than the MLB average.
But Pierre's recent surge has been the product of the ever-indecisive and usually-cruel BABIP monster. In his last 17 games, Pierre has a .409 batting average on balls in play, a number that's hardly sustainable even for the speediest of players.
If Pierre's uptick in production was the product of an increased walk rate more than anything else, it'd be easier to accept it as something other than Fool's Gold. But Pierre has walked just five times in 77 plate appearances, which is exactly in line with his 6.5 percent season walk rate.
He is hitting the ball harder, as Pierre's July line drive rate of 33 percent stands well above his season rate of 21.2 percent. But a 33 percent line drive rate is completely unsustainable; the highest line-drive rate in baseball this season is 28.1 percent, belonging to reigning National League MVP Joey Votto.
For Pierre to keep up any semblance of his recent hot streak, he'll have to finish the last 2.5 months of the season with a career-high line drive rate (besting his 25.5 percent mark in 2005 with Florida). For a guy who turns 34 in just under a month, that seems far-fetched.
With more line drives come more hits. And with more hits come higher BABIPs. But eventually, Pierre will stop hitting line drives on one in every three batted balls. And then, his production will slow back to the point where he probably won't be worth keeping in the lineup over Viciedo.
Also, Guillen said last weekend that the Sox play better when Pierre plays better. In Pierre's last 16 starts stretching back to June 24, the Sox are 7-9 (8-9 if you include Pierre's ninth-inning substitution July 4, although to the best of my knowledge he didn't cause Aaron Crow to balk).
That's not exactly playing better.