Well, Juan Pierre did it.
He achieved a rather nice career milestone late last week, hit No. 2,000. It ain’t a Hall of Fame-worthy achievement to put it mildly, but it’s still a nice one. He’s only the 268th member of that club. It tops Gabby Hartnett, Jim Edmonds, Home Run Baker and Bobby Grich, among others.
(Random side note: Pierre actually helped 2011 make history, as he was the eighth person this season to join the club. That ties the all-time record set in 1993. That year, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Ruben Sierra, Edgar Martinez, Gary Sheffield, Marquis Grissom, John Olerud, and Sammy Sosa did it.
This year, Carlos Lee, Orlando Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Michael Young, Paul Konerko, Scott Rolen, Adrian Beltre, and Pierre have done it. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled column, already in progress).
On the one hand, it’s perfect that Juan Pierre made it to 2,000 hits. He’s part of the answer to one of my all-time favorite trivia questions: Who are the only three players in history to collect 200 hits in a season with three different clubs?
Pierre is one. He tallied 202 hits in a season for the Rockies in 2001, then posted back-to-back 200-hit campaigns with the Marlins in 2003-04. Finally, a strong second half gave him 204 base knocks with the 2006 Cubs.
Care to guess the other two? Well, both had slightly better careers than Pierre. The first one was second baseman Rogers Hornsby, who did it for the Cardinals (five times), Giants and Cubs. The other was Paul Molitor (Milwaukee, Toronto and Minnesota for him).
You can actually take this a step further. Ignoring the tyranny of the base-10 system for a second, Juan Pierre is the one and only person to get 196 hits in a season for four franchises, as he did that with the 2007 Dodgers.
The South Side Hit Man. (Icon Sports photo)
So yeah, on the one hand it’s appropriate that Pierre made it to 2,000.
On the other hand…he’s still just Juan Pierre. Look at those names again for a second: Maybe the greatest-hitting second baseman ever, a seven-time All Star who is in the top ten all time in hits, and Pierre.
Yeah, Pierre is really good at getting hits, but he’s about as bad a player as you can be while still really good at getting hits. Power? Not at all—he averages less than a homer per 100 games. Walks? Nope, the lack of walks helps him get all those at-bats to get hits in.
Pierre does have speed, but even there a qualifier exists. While he has 552 stolen bases and led the league in swipes three times, he’s also topped the circuit in caught steals six times, and he is on pace for season seven this year. Give him a little bit there for speed, but not much more.
Pierre isn’t even that good on defense. Despite his speed, his range factors are typically below average due to subpar instincts, and he’s famous for his noodle of an arm.
So thank God he knows how to put wood on the ball for singles, because aside from that he ain’t got that much going for him.
Which leads to a question: What other players are like him? Who else has that one thing they know how to do, and God bless ‘em for it, because the rest of their game is weak. I don’t just mean hits, either. But there’s gotta be someone whose game is entirely based on power, or on walks, or on stolen bases, or on whatever.
Let’s see if we can field an entire lineup of these guys. The one-dimensional players, regardless of what the dimension is, who don’t bring too much else to the table.
What follows is a list of Juan Pierre All-Stars, and I’ll list what their big strength is alongside their name and position.
Catcher: Bill Bergen. Strength—defense.
This one is cheating, but I couldn’t resist. While Pierre is a long-standing sabermetric whipping boy, he brings some value to the team. Bergen? No, he was terrible. He’s the worst bat in baseball history, with career AVG/OBP/SLG lines of .170/.194/.201. Many pitchers hit better.
Yeah, but he could field. He must have, becasue Lord knows his bat didn’t keep him around for 11 years. Despite playing at a time when catcher’s played far less than they do know due to minimal safety equipment, Bergen played in 947 games. He’s still in the top ten in base stealers caught, with 1,034. Sure, that’s largely because of the steal-happy era he played in, but there are other catchers from that day with fewer runners thrown out.
First base: Bill Buckner. Strength—batting average.
Among all players with at least 1,000 games played and an OPS+ of 100 or worse, the highest career batting averages belong to the following:
Player Average Games Charlie Grimm 0.290 2166 Bill Buckner 0.289 2517 Walter Holke 0.287 1212 Eddie Waitkus 0.285 1140 Vic Power 0.284 1627
Grimm and Buckner are not only the top two names listed, they’re also the only ones with 2,000 or more games played. In fact, of the 24 guys with at least 1,000 games and an OPS+ of 100 or less, they’re still the only two guys over 2,000 games.
So why Buckner instead of Grimm? Well, Grimm frankly wasn’t even all that good at batting average. He had a higher mark because of the era he played in, but he finished in the top ten only twice and never in the top five. Buckner led the league once, came in the top five in four different campaigns, and in the top ten six times.
Buckner could hit, but he definitely had his limitations. He drew only 450 walks in over 10,000 plate appearances and had some speed while young, but he lasted long enough to end up in the top 30 all-time in GIDP, and Buckner certainly wasn’t known for his glove. He had some gap-worthy power, but then again, even Pierre had his stolen bases. It’s tough to be truly one dimensional.
Second base: Tony Womack. Strength—stolen bases.
Womack is like Pierre, if Pierre couldn’t hit very well but did a better job not getting tagged out. From 1997-99, Womack led the league in steals every year, with a total 190 swipes and only 28 times caught. An 87 percent success rate on the base paths? Yeah, that’s worth something.
But he batted .273, which isn’t terrible but isn’t special. And he didn’t draw many walks, and he hit only 36 homers in over 5,000 PA. Oh, and according to WAR, his defense wasn’t very good, listing him as 2.7 wins below replacement level.
I don’t want to get into any wars over WAR, and I certainly don’t want to claim it’s the perfect way to measure defense (it also lists Bergen as below average, which I find hard to believe), but Womack’s contributions came down to his steals—hence his inclusion on the Pierre All-Stars.
Shortstop: Eddie Joost. Strength—base on balls.
I’m not sure any player’s offensive game focused so much on getting walks as Joost. He batted only .239, but that was okay because on more than one occasion his walks outnumbered his hits. In a six-year stretch, Joost’s base on balls totals hit triple digits, with 713 in 847 games in all for that period.
He couldn’t hit, wasn’t going to be a Gold Glove winner, and wasn’t much of a threat on the bases. Joost had some power—pretty good power for a shortstop, actually, but he never caught on to stay in the majors until he had his eyes checked and began drawing walks.
Really, he’s probably a little too good for this team—he really did have nice power for a middle infielder, and as a shortstop he must’ve had some defensive value—but I wanted to get some guy on the teams just for base on balls.
Third base: Jim Presley. Strength—power.
The former Mariner isn’t a big name, but he might be the worst player ever to belt 100 homers.
Only 85 players with over 100 homers also had a batting average under .250. Of them, Presley is fifth-worst at GIDP/PA and BB/PA. He topped that off with nine career steals (versus 14 caught steals) and a lousy glove. He couldn’t do much else at all.
Added bonus: By playing third base in the late 1980s, Presley clocked a young Edgar Martinez for several years.
Outfield: Juan Pierre. Strength—singles.
What? Didn’t I say enough about him already. By all accounts he’s a great guy, which puts him ahead of the other two outfielders on this team.
Outfield: Vince Coleman. Strength—stolen bases.
When an interviewer once asked him how many steals he could get if he drew a 100 walks a year and hit .300 like Rickey Henderson, Coleman paused and guessed 300 steals a year.
Yeah. If he could hit and draw walks. Damn shame he couldn’t.
It’s incredible how good he was on the bases. He once stole 107 bases (with only 14 caught stealings) with an OBP of .301. Yeah, that’s not normal.
But he was a middling hitter with no power and mixed ability to draw walks. Off the field, he’s infamous for throwing a lit firecracker at fans wanting to get his autograph.
Outfield: Dave Kingman. Strength—big, booming home runs.
Kingman was completely indifferent to everything but hitting home runs. He came up a third baseman but was indifferent in the field. His batting average always sucked, and he never minded. Despite his power, he never drew that many walks. He soon lost whatever speed on the bases he had. He also had a bad reputation off the field.
But my goodness could he drive the ball. He hit many homers, and he hit them long. While a Met, he blasted arguably the longest home run in Wrigley Field history, a shot that went out of the park, over Waveland Avenue, and three or four houses down Kenmore Ave. Had it gone 15 feet more, it would’ve crashed through the window of a woman watching the game on her TV.
Starting pitcher: Bobby Witt. Strength—fastball.
He’s the closest thing to Steve Dalkowski I’ve ever seen. As a 22-year-old rookie, he fanned 9.9 batters per nine innings, which would’ve topped the league if he’d thrown just five more frames. Witt had to settle for leading the league in walks with 143, 17 more than the runner up. He also topped the league in wild pitches (22).
Witt improved his control, but he was never that good, ending up with a 142-157 record in nearly 400 starts.
Starting pitcher: Carlos Silva: Strength—control.
Has there ever been a stranger season than Silva’s 2005? In 188 innings, he served up 25 gopher balls while fanning a paltry 71 hitters, but Silva got away with it because he walked nine batters. Nine. All year. Just nine.
He never had another season with control that good—no one has since the 19th century. And not surprisingly, Silva has never been as good as he was that year.
Starting pitcher: Bob Tewksbury – control.
Years ago, a poster at Baseball Think Factory called Dr. Memory did an interesting study. He took the full careers of several hundred pitchers, took their BB/9 IP rate, compared it to the league rate, and normalized it to compare all pitchers across history.
By that system, Tewsbury was the best control pitcher ever. That makes sense, as he issued only 292 free passes in 1,807 IP. But he also didn’t strike many batters out, causing Tewksbury to lead the league in hits allowed two straight seasons. His career record of 110-102 fits his accomplishments.
Starting pitcher: Benny Frey: Strength—control (yes, again).
It’s okay, he never heard of you, either.
Here’s a query: Take all pitchers with 1,000 IP from 1920-60 (304 in all) and order them by fewest walks per nine. Twenty-five of the top 26 will have a career ERA+ in the triple digits. The other guy is Benny Frey, with a lousy ERA+ of 90. His BB/9 IP ranks 20th in that bunch. They next-best-ranked guy with an ERA+ of 90 or worse comes in 132nd place.
Frey kept the ball in the strike zone, but the hitters didn’t seem to mind.
Starting pitcher: Long Tom Hughes: Strength—strikeouts.
Hughes is the strikeout version of Frey. Hughes averaged slightly better than a K per two innings, which would suck nowadays, but was really nice back in the Deadball Era when Hughes worked.
But he wasn’t that good. Like Witt, he also walked too damn many people. Six times, Hughes finished in the top ten of K/9 IP. But he was among the league leaders in walks five times, wild pitches four times, and hit by pitches four times. While bad run support helped give him a 132-174 career record, so did his lousy 93 ERA+.
Closer: Greg Minton: Strength—keeping it in the park.
Minton is famous as the man who went several years without allowing a home run. After Joe Ferguson went deep on Minton on Sept. 6, 1978, no one else did until May 2, 1982. Yeah, not bad.
Minton needed that because, unlike virtually all prominent pitchers in the last several decades, he walked more batters than he struck out. He combined a pedestrian walk rate with a lousy strikeout rate. But he kept the ball in the park, making him effective.
References & Resources
Stats come from Baseball-Reference.com. It’s Play Index was especially helpful.