Juan Pierre's entire baseball existence hinges on reliability.
A team signs up for the Pierre Experience knowing exactly what they're going to get. They're going to get a guy who conditions himself to survive an entire 162-game season. They're going to get a guy with no power and a so-so on-base percentage, but he runs the bases better than almost anyone. They're going to get a guy who catches enough balls in left field to offset his pop-gun arm.
To the casual viewer, Pierre is barely a ballplayer. Over the long haul, though, consistency is valued in a clubhouse. With Pierre, you can set it and forget it. He contributes only a little here and a little there, but he contributes a lot his little bits, and by the end of the season, it adds up to be worth what the Sox are paying him.
Or maybe that should all be written in the past tense now. This year's edition of Pierre is a siphon.
Who knew that Pierre's slow start last year would be the only thing providing hope for this year?
When it comes to his performance at the plate, he's actually ahead of the game. Here's what he's done through the first 31 games of each of his two White Sox seasons:
- 2011: .246/.316/.270
Pierre has drawn 12 walks, and he's had two three-walk games in May. The month is only four days old. He's not giving away at-bats, and normally, this would be an awesome development.
Except for the whole baserunning thing. Pierre has committed 10 outs on the basepaths this year, which means you can effectively remove 10 times he reached base from his OBP count. If you take those away from his 30 hits, 12 walks and one HBP, and divide by 136 plate appearances, it feels more like his OBP is ... 243.
To be fair, we should do the same thing to his 2010 line. He was caught stealing in four of his 19 attempts and was picked off once over that 31-game period. Subtract those outs from the OBP calculation, and his effective OBP is ... .244.
That means that in every meaningful way, Pierre is off to a worse start than he was last year. Compounding problems, he's worse in the ways that really count for him.
The 6-for-14 performance on the basepaths is truly crippling, especially in situations like Monday. He got an outstanding jump off Jeremy Guthrie, and Matt Wieters still threw him out by a comfortable margin.
In comparison, his decline in the field isn't nearly as concerning, but it's way more baffling. It'd be one thing if he were merely a step slow, but he's making an adventure out of routine balls. He's tentative, whether in tracking a flyball or figuring out whether a ball is actually stuck underneath padding along a wall.
Pierre can't be unsure about his game in any respect, because his game is built on confidence. Everybody else in the world can doubt him (and most do), but if Pierre joins them, you can start counting down the days left in his career.
Last year, he hit bottom on May 7 against Toronto. Not only did he go 0-for-6, but his attempted walk-off drag bunt resulted in a pop-out to the pitcher. Pierre came back the next day and had the first of four straight multi-hit games. He was an asset the rest of the season.
If Pierre is going to flip the switch again, he's got to do it now. If his problems extend into the middle of May, Ozzie Guillen has to consider other options, or else he's not doing his job. The best solution I can think of isn't elegant -- it's Pierre taking a backseat to a Mark Teahen-Dayan Viciedo platoon. It's disrespecting a veteran, sure, but it's in favor of a rotation that involves two players who are part of the White Sox's 2012 plans.
As of now, Pierre doesn't have a role in the future. And if he can't steal a bag without getting thrown out the next time, he doesn't have a role in the present, either.