The leadoff hitter issue has now reared its ugly head as Juan Pierre has looked poor as a defender and hitter. When Pierre was first traded to the Sox we knew what we were getting, a slap hitter who could steal bases but had no arm in the outfield. The lack of throwing ability was over shadowed by his ability to wreak havoc on the base paths. This year he is having troubles catching the ball, stealing bases and generally reaching base. He is lacking in all of the aspects of his game that make him valuable. What is Juan’s problem?
Throughout his career Juan was always seen as a contact hitter, just trying to get the bat on the ball to make things happen, as this type of hitter you would expect him to put the ball on the ground and keep his strikeouts low. His career strikeout ratio of 6.3% is far below the average which is about 19%. Also, his career groundball/ flyball ratio (GB/FB) has always been around 2.4. This year unfortunately Juan has been putting the ball on the ground less often. His strikeout ratio is far above his career average at nearly 10%, highest of his career, and his GB/FB is down to 1.80, lowest of his career, not good for a guy who lives on infield base hits.
On the base paths the numbers are not very promising either. Juan has been caught stealing on 8 of 14 attempts, that’s 57% of the time … terrible. I wrote an article earlier that discusses the effect of base stealing and concluded that unless a base stealer is successful 67% of the time, the base stealing begins to have a negative effect on the team. Clearly, Juan successfully stealing a base only 43% of the time is having a seriously negative effect on the team.
What makes this decline worrisome? Juan has been on the decline for sometime now, and last year was somewhat of a career year for him, meeting or exceeding career bests in many offensive categories, such as Stolen Bases (68) and OBP. The total of his offensive production has been on a natural regression, as is typical for his type of player. As these numbers indicate, Juan just isn’t the same player.
Now, with the fact that Juan has slowly but surely began a natural drop in abilities what can the Sox do, now and in the future to sure up the leadoff position? Internally the Sox have options, for the short term, in Omar Vizquel and Brent Lillibridge. Long term the Sox are hoping to develop Jared Mitchell into the prototypical leadoff hitter. Mitchell, 22, is currently in A+ ball and looks to have recovered well from an ankle injury acquired last spring training. Whatever the route chosen by the Sox a change needs to take place.