Juan Pierre picked up game-winning RBIs in three consecutive games last week—but could those hits actually end up costing the Sox down the road?
I want to like Pierre. I really do. There's never been a bad word uttered about his clubhouse presence and work ethic, and that he "plays the game right" does count for something. But this is a results-based business. Pierre isn't delivering results, no matter what a stretch of three games show.
Unfortunately, there's not much Pierre can do save a torrid second half that'll convince me he belongs on a White Sox team that's All In. The best thing he could do? Invent a time machine and play better in the first three months of the season.
Going into Independence Day, Pierre is one of four qualified position players in baseball with a WAR of -1.0 or worse. Adam Dunn is also one of the four, although his track record lends hope despite his awful numbers this season.
For the White Sox to have the best chance at winning the division, Dunn needs to start hitting like his usual self. Ozzie Guillen's managed the situation well, continuing to run Dunn out there despite his ineptitude at the plate. The White Sox have to hope Dunn turns everything around and starts hitting—and there is some hope, no matter how abysmal Dunn's numbers are.
But there's not much hope regarding Pierre. He's had just one above-average offensive season since leaving Florida five years ago, that being in 2009 with the Dodgers. Pierre's numbers that season were indicative of a flash-in-the-pan season, with nearly all his stats in line with his career average except for BABIP.
Pierre's 2011 line would be much more acceptable if he could steal bases with any frequency. While Pierre didn't hit for much power last year—as usual—his .341 OBP and 68 stolen bases were at least acceptable. This year, Pierre doesn't get on base as much (.317 OBP) and can't advance himself to second base with the same success. He's effectively killed any offensive value by being thrown out 10 times in 21 chances on the basepaths.
Big picture, Pierre's three consecutive games with a game-winning RBI aren't too significant in a 162-game season. Obviously, those hits were key and very much appreciated, especially with Carlos Quentin and Paul Konerko scuffling.
Those three hits probably earned Pierre at least an extra month with the White Sox. If Pierre doesn't pick up those three hits, it likely would have been much easier for Kenny Williams to convince Guillen that Viciedo needs to be in Chicago instead of Pierre. Now, there's little chance Guillen will do anything but continue his staunch defense of Pierre, no matter how bad the rest of the month could potentially go.
Another month of Pierre's ineffectiveness from the No. 1 spot in the order could set the Sox's playoff hopes back a bit. We saw what happens to the White Sox this weekend when Quentin and Konerko don't hit—the team doesn't score but a run or two, if that.
Viciedo won't save the White Sox offense. But there's a better-than-good chance he would improve it by replacing Pierre. Unfortunately, I don't think that'll happen any time soon.
Note: I've heard the argument against WAR that it doesn't take into account games actually won by a player, with Brent Lillibridge's defensive heroics against New York and Oakland cited as examples. The same could be said about Pierre's game-winning hits. But I'm of the belief that one single player rarely is responsible for a victory—I suppose a starter who throws a shutout would be an example, assuming every ball in play was routine for his fielders.
In the case of Pierre's hits, each gave the Sox the lead. But the reason why I don't feel WAR is inaccurate in not bringing those into the equation is because the Sox had numerous chances to take a lead earlier in the game. Pierre's game-winning hit against the Cubs in Saturday's 1-0 game was only game-winning because of the Sox's offensive ineptitude; had somebody belted a home run earlier, that hit doesn't stand as a game-winner. Plus, it wasn't all Pierre's doing—somebody had to get on base ahead of him for it to happen.
And if that's not convincing, how about mentioning the two games Pierre "lost" for the Sox early in April by botching fly balls? Or all the other times Pierre floundered in close games, like his April 17 0-5 showing in a loss to Los Angeles or June 24's 0-6 performance in an extra-inning loss to Washington? It's better to go context-neutral, because those are arguments that'll blow back up in your face.