July 7, 2012

Can the Reds avoid another Willy Taveras situation?

The news from the Twitters yesterday centered around a message from ESPN’s Buster Olney saying that the Cincinnati Reds were looking at Philadelphia Phillies’ outfielder Juan Pierre.

As the Phillies prepare for possible sell-off, Juan Pierre drawing interest, including from the Cincinnati Reds.

Pierre is a 35-year-old left-fielder who many may recognize as the super-fast guy who used to lead-off and patrol center field for the Florida Marlins a decade ago. He was a guy who relied on his speed to be successful, and as he’s aged, his productivity has declined with his speed.

I’m happy to hear that the Reds are exploring the market. So often it seems like General Manager is asleep at the wheel even when it’s clear the team has gaping holes. The biggest problems with the 2012 club are ones that were identified and left un-addressed in the off-season: lead-off, left field, and the bench.

Presumably, Pierre would serve to improve the lead-off and left-field problem. However, after checking out Pierre’s stats and reading Redleg Nation’s review of Pierre, I think the better move would be doing nothing at all.

Pierre is a singles hitter who doesn’t walk much. His on-base percentage is almost directly tied to his batting average.

Pierre’s plate discipline is showing tell-tale signs of decline. His O-Swing rate (percentage of times the batter swings at a pitch outside the strike zone) has shot up from 27.6% last year to 33.9% this year. Over 30% O-Swing you’re usually looking at power hitters, like Phillips, Frazier, Ludwick etc. (JoeyMVP has a team-low 22% O-Swing). But with Pierre, you get zero power from his lack of discipline.

Keep in mind the importance of walking to OBP. Players go through slumps in batting average all the time. If their walk-rate is an important part of their OBP, then their offensive contribution doesn’t suffer as much. But if their OBP is made up to a large degree by their AVG, as it is with players like Pierre (and Heisey, and Phillips and Cozart and …) then the offense suffers from inconsistency. Really, the very last thing the erratic Reds offense needs right now is another hitter who doesn’t walk.

That last sentence is what really makes me the most scared about the Reds having Pierre. He’s hitting better than he has in a while right now, which means he’s likely to enter into a slump at some point. Without the ability to walk and get on base during a slump, he’ll just be another automatic out in the Reds’ lineup. In short, he’d be another Willy Taveras and no better than Drew Stubbs.

There are better upgrade options out there, depending on how much the club is willing to give up. If it were me, I’d certainly be exploring those, but Pierre would be one of the last guys I considered.

I think the best plan now is to shuffle the lineup. Move Brandon Phillips back to the lead-off position. Have Ryan Hanigan bat second. Move Todd Frazier to clean-up, and drop Stubbs and Zach Cozart down a few spots. As far as long-term plans for lead-off and center field, right now it feels like Billy Hamilton–he of the .413 on-base percentage and 104 steals in high A-ball–is likely the guy. Unfortunately, he’s unlikely to be ready until next year, at the earliest.

Until then, the best move might be no move at all. Which I would take over another Willy Taveras.

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