After years and years of Pat Burrell and Raul Ibanez manning left field on a day-to-day basis, the Phillies actually had an opening at the position entering 2012.
While John Mayberry, Jr. seemed to be the favorite to win the job (especially before Ryan Howard got hurt and opened up first base), he struggled in spring training and never really ran away with the position. Laynce Nix and Dom Brown were other possible candidates for the job, but they didn’t exactly grab the position by the throat either.
Now, I’m willing to argue the best option for the Phillies in left field is Juan Pierre. Juan should be in the lineup, leading off, every night for the Phillies. Here’s why.
Fact: Spring training ended a couple of weeks ago.
Fiction: Spring training stats don’t matter or mean anything.
Juan Pierre absolutely killed the ball this spring, hitting for a healthy .377 average. His competition, John Mayberry, Jr. and Laynce Nix, hit .203 and .208, respectively.
And for those people who still say “Spring training stats don’t mean anything,” don’t kid yourselves. Yes, they are not the be-all and end-all determinant of a player’s season to follow, but they are surely a sign of how a player is seeing the ball going into the year.
For most players, there is no magic switch to turn on when the season starts; hitting is all about timing, and that timing is developed during the spring. While a lot of superstars can turn it on regardless of how they play during the spring, none of the Phillies' left field options are superstars.
Maybe most importantly, Juan Pierre is playing well right now.
He’s done a good job getting on base for the players behind him. To this point, Juan is hitting .300 with three steals.
I’ll get to the performance of the Phillies' other left field options in a bit, but just know that Juan Pierre has outplayed all of them to this point.
Juan Pierre knows how to set the table, simple and plain.
He slaps singles, he’s fast and he can use that speed to score often when the guys behind him put the ball in play. He still doesn’t take a ton of walks (a la J-Roll), but he’s a better fit than J-Roll for the lead-off spot right now (to be discussed next slide), and the Phillies need Victorino’s bat more towards the heart of the lineup.
Juan Pierre’s ability to lead off allows Charlie Manuel to slide Jimmy Rollins into the third spot in the batting order, which is crucial, given the Phillies’ lack of power with Howard and Utley hurt.
Jimmy Rollins has been a 30 home run guy in his career, and that kind of pop is something that is notably absent in this current Phillies lineup. The Phillies need Jimmy’s bat in a run-producing spot in the lineup, and Juan Pierre’s presence makes that possible.
Jimmy Rollins maxed out at 46 steals when he was 22 years old. Shane Victorino was able to swipe 37 bags at age 26.
The most steals Juan Pierre has had in a season was 68.
“Well, yeah, of course Juan Pierre was a prolific base stealer, but he’s older now,” you may be saying. “That was probably back when his legs were young and fresh.”
Wrong. That was two seasons ago. Juan Pierre stole 68 bases at age 32 in 2010.
Juan Pierre swipes bases at a frequency unlike any player the Phillies have had in recent memory. And so while Pierre is a singles hitter for sure, his career .362 slugging percentage doesn’t tell the true story of his worth.
When you steal the amount of bases that Juan Pierre does, you essentially turn a good amount of those singles into doubles. The Phillies need to maximize their scoring opportunities without their two best hitters, even when Howard and Utley return. With Juan Pierre’s ability to steal bases, letting him get to first often means putting him in scoring position.
Let’s face it, the Phillies’ other options in left field aren’t that good. Short of calling up Domonic Brown, they don’t have many exciting alternatives to Juan Pierre. The two other outfield possibilities on the roster, John Mayberry, Jr. and Laynce Nix, are particularly underwhelming.
Mayberry, Jr.’s power is his most valuable asset in his bid to be the Phillies left fielder, but he currently has just one double and no home runs. With no power numbers to speak of so far, Mayberry, Jr. is really just providing the Phillies a .212 average, hardly inspiring numbers. He may have put up serviceable numbers as a platoon player last season, but he doesn’t have enough of a track record in the major leagues to just assume that he’ll come around and produce consistently.
Laynce Nix is a career .244 hitter who is batting .188 with no home runs and two doubles thus far in 2012. Sure, he has power when compared to Pierre, but it’s not like he’s Babe Ruth or even Jimmy Rollins.
The most home runs Nix had hit in a season was 16. He’s hit 64 home runs in his 10-year career. I guess he offers the Phils a left-handed pinch-hitting option, but he’s nothing more than an extremely replaceable fourth or fifth outfielder who might hit it out of the park once every couple of weeks.
As I mentioned earlier, Juan Pierre is simply a different type of player than the Phillies have had in quite a while.
He slaps the ball to left not unlike Ichiro. He turns singles into doubles with steals not unlike Jose Reyes. He wears his socks high up not unlike any player from the 1920’s.
No plays are routine with Juan Pierre running down the line.
Juan keeps the defense on their toes at all times. Any fly ball and he’s a threat to tag up. Any hesitation on a grounder to third or short and he’s fast enough to beat it out for an infield hit. There are precious few times during a game when Juan Pierre is thrown out by more than one step on a grounder.
When it comes down to it, the Phillies need a player to invigorate their offense and help put as many runs on the board as possible for their aces. They could do a whole lot worse than Juan Pierre.