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Classic Rockies: Remembering Juan Pierre’s career in Colorado

No way we’re letting the opportunity to write about Juan Pierre pass us up

This might be the last time we’ll have an opportunity to write about Juan Pierre. And, damnit, we’re going to take it.

Pierre is on the 2019 Hall of Fame ballot for the first, and very likely the last, time. As of this writing, he hasn’t received a single vote on publicly available ballots. In order to get the required 5% of the vote to stay on the ballot next year, he’ll need to get about 21 votes from the roughly 260 ballots of unknown content — about 8%. I don’t think he’ll make it.

Still, Pierre had a career worth remembering, and it started with the Rockies. The Rockies drafted Pierre out of the University of South Alabama in the 13th round of the 1998 draft. The left-handed center fielder’s calling cards were defense, speed, and contact. He was, therefore, not your typical turn-of-the-millennium player.

After spending just one full season in the minors, Pierre made his major league debut on August 7, 2000. He pinch ran for Todd Helton in an 8-7 loss against the Pirates at Coors Field. Pierre made his first start the next day, playing center field and going 2-for-5 with a run scored from the leadoff spot in a 6-1 win over Pittsburgh. In his third game, also against the Pirates, he stole his first base:

Despite the August debut, Pierre received enough playing time to exceed rookie eligibility in 2000. He hit .310/.353/.320 for an OPS+ of 57, and he even received a Rookie of the Year vote. Back then, the .300 average was enough for someone to throw him that vote.

Over the next two seasons, Pierre was the Rockies’ every day center fielder and leadoff man. In 2001 he hit .327/.378/.415, which was good for an OPS+ of 89, and led the league with 46 stolen bases. Perhaps the most incredible stat from Pierre’s 2001 season, however, was that he played half his games at pre-humidor Coors Field and hit a total of two home runs, both of them coming on the road. By comparison, 27 of Todd Helton’s 49 home runs in 2001 came at Coors Field.

Pierre’s second full year as a starter wasn’t nearly as good as his first. He hit just .287/.332/.343, for an OPS+ of 69. Pierre’s lone home run in 2002 also came on the road.

It makes sense, then, that the Rockies viewed Pierre as expendable. That led to him becoming a part a notable occasion in Rockies history: Pierre was traded with Mike Hampton to the Florida Marlins after the 2002 offseason. The memorable returns were Charles Johnson and Pierre’s center field replacement, Preston Wilson.

The trade, for Pierre, was fortuitous, as he won a World Series with the Marlins in 2003. He played for them through the 2005 season. In his final season as a member of the Marlins, Pierre hit his first and only home run at Coors Field — something he didn’t do in 181 games and 778 plate appearances as a member of the Rockies.

Pierre played for four more teams over the next seven seasons before returning to the Marlins in 2013, his final season.

★ ★ ★

Perhaps my favorite fun fact about Juan Pierre has to do with the question of baseball value. Pierre’s value was entirely derived from defense, speed, and his ability to put the ball in play. His strikeout rate never exceeded 8.1%. However, Pierre wasn’t very good at taking walks, as his single season walk rate maxed out at 7.4%. That greatly limited his offensive value. And, it should be clear by now, Pierre wasn’t much of a power guy.

And yet, if we take Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement as a relatively accurate measure of overall value, Pierre had basically the same career as someone who was the opposite of him in just about every way possible: Adam Dunn.

Pierre’s seasons played: 14
Dunn’s seasons played: 14

Pierre’s career games played: 1,994
Dunn’s career games played: 2,001

Pierre’s career plate appearances: 8,280
Dunn’s career plate appearances: 8,328

Pierre’s career home runs: 18
Dunn’s career home runs: 462

Pierre’s career stolen bases: 614
Dunn’s career stolen bases: 63

Pierre’s career strikeout and walk rates: 8.2%/3.9%
Dunn’s career strikeout and walk rates: 28.6%/15.8%

Pierre’s defense: Pretty good at an important position
Dunn’s defense: Very bad wherever he played

Pierre’s career rWAR: 17.1
Dunn’s career rWAR: 17.4

It’s pretty incredible that two guys can have such different careers and end up in the same place in terms of overall value. Dunn hit more home runs in 66 games during his rookie season than Pierre hit in his entire career; Pierre exceeded Dunn’s career stolen base total in a single season three separate times. Dunn began and ended his career one year after Pierre. It’ll be interesting to see if Dunn receives more love from voters than Pierre is getting, which, as far as we know, is none at all.

Pierre’s time with the Rockies was short. But any player who gets their career started and off the ground in Colorado is sure worth remembering. We have to take those opportunities.