Pierre gets to 2,000 hits the hard way

Juan Pierre joined Paul Konerko as the second White Sox to collect his 2,000th hit this season, but he didn't receive quite as much fanfare for the feat. That's understandable for a number of reasons, the most significant being that Konerko only had 48 hits to his name before joining the Sox, whereas Pierre had 1,663.

But I do think that Pierre deserves some recognition for collecting his 2,000th hit as a member of the White Sox, because he completed an incredibly steep climb based on the way he played over the first two months of the season.

To expound upon a passing thought on I had on Twitter the other day -- if somebody told you prior to the season that Juan Pierre lost a step and a half, how bad do you think he would be?

I probably would've braced myself for a Chone Figgins-like collapse, because when speed-based players lose their legs, they have little recourse. And really, speed is all Pierre has.

Somehow, Pierre cordoned off the disaster areas in his game effectively enough that his lost speed didn't contaminate his hitting. If you weren't following his season day in and day out, would you be able to tell which one of his White Sox seasons is which?

  1. .284/.336/.335, 14 2B, 4 3B, 2 HR, 38 BB, 36 K
  2. .275/.341/.316, 18 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 45 BB, 47 K

By and large, that's the same player. Alas, when you zoom out to include other numbers that involve his speed, it's a lot easier to figure it out:

  1. 25 SB, 14 CS, -.12.1 UZR/150, -0.1 fWAR
  2. 68 SB, 17 CS, +12.4 UZR/150, 2.8 fWAR

Pierre has never created much value with his bat alone. He makes up for it by covering more ground than most in left field, and by running well enough to be your active stolen-base leader. Without those two elements, there isn't much separating him from any organization's fifth or sixth outfielder.

But we know all that already. I'm more fascinated by the first set of numbers, because in that respect, Pierre reminds of a player that he usually doesn't have a whole lot in common with: A.J. Pierzynski.

 

Pierzynski is a 34-year-old catcher on the verge of catching 1,000 innings for his 10th straight season. Most catchers would be dropping off dramatically by now, but Pierzynski is having an offensive season that fits in perfectly with his White Sox career. In fact, by some measures, he's having his finest year wearing the black and white.

Behind the plate is a different matter. His lateral movement leaves a lot to be desired, his throws to second ride a Scooty-Puff, Jr., and it seems like Ozzie Guillen has noticed based on his surprising rave reviews of Tyler Flowers. But despite the wear and tear of playing a demanding position, Pierzynski has managed to isolate his hitting from the effects of erosion.

Pierre's brand of baseball is equally stressful for different reasons. He needs to wring every ounce of his talent to keep his head above water as a viable major-league starter, and he knows it. It's reflected in his legendary work ethic, which allows him to endure the wear and tear of running all-out and diving into bases without suffering injuries like Scott Podsednik's sports hernias.

Like Pierzynski, Pierre can't prevent his age from undermining him in other facets, and it's a much bigger problem for him. That's where his dedication comes in, because Pierre has salvaged some of his season after an absolutely dreadful first three months.

Since bottoming out on June 24, Pierre has hit .323/.367/.387. He compensated by running smarter, not harder (15-for-20). He cut down on the confusing miscues in left field. He even hit .404 with runners in scoring position, which allowed him to blow past Adam Dunn in the RBI column.

Maybe Pierre still didn't add enough to the team to compensate for everything he took off the table in the first half, but unlike Dunn and Alex Rios, Pierre could at least say he stopped being a problem. And he cobbled together this recovery effort while missing his meal ticket.

Had Pierre prepared like mortals do, he would probably be in the same situation as Dunn and Rios. He would have probably lost his starting job (even with Guillen managing), and he probably would've fallen well short of 2,000 hits. Hell, if he ran into a tough free agent market, he might've had a tough road to reach 2,000 hits in 2012. But because Pierre is as resilient as they come, he was able to buy himself at least three more months with a pretty strong comeback.

So Pierre's 2,000 hits are worthy of recognition, even if not with the same reverence as Konerko's, because it shows what hard work is worth. It might not automatically translate into wins, but it does wonders to avoid total losses.

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