USA TODAY Sports
The Miami Marlins signed a stopgap solution in left field, bringing back old fan favorite Juan Pierre to man the position. But a new fan favorite in prospect Christian Yelich might make his arrival soon as well.
The Miami Marlins did not want to start the season depending on their outfield "depth" in the minors to carry them in left or center field in 2013. Last season, both Bryan Petersen and Gorkys Hernandez got extended looks in the big leagues and looked awful at the plate, so in preparation for the upcoming season, the Marlins signed a stopgap solution in former fan favorite Juan Pierre. Pierre made his name with the Marlins in 2003 through 2005, and now he has returned to the place where he initially made his mark. Of course, the Marlins of today are drastically different than the competitive Marlins of the past, and Pierre is not exactly his 2003 self, so both sides have changed their roles.
1. Juan Pierre
2. Gorkys Hernandez
Minor League Depth: Bryan Petersen, Christian Yelich
In many ways, Pierre really has not changed that much since his days in 2003. His gameplan, generally speaking, remains very similar to what it has always been. Pierre's plan is to make contact on a lot of pitches (93.2 percent contact rate in 2012) and put the ball in play (6.2 percent strikeout rate). Once in play, he lets the luck dragon of batting average on balls in play do his bidding. On a good season, like in 2012, Pierre can look a little like his old self; he batted .307/.351/.371 (.320 wOBA) last season, and that represented his fourth-best career line. But when that luck is not on his side, as was the case in 2011, things can get ugly; with the Chicago White Sox that season, he hit just .279/.329/.327 (.296 wOBA) and, combined with some other factors, put up a below replacement level season.
So Pierre's destiny at the plate is controlled by the one variable in his game: the outcome on balls in play. Much of the rest of his game remains static year-to-year, from his strikeout rate to his walk rate (five to 6.5 percent in each of the last five seasons) to his absent power (career .066 ISO). It would be nice to also mention that Pierre's legendary baserunning skills also remained the same, but given that his 2011 season was so bad (27 of 44 in stolen bases) and his 2012 year so good (37 of 44), it is difficult to tell. Pierre is still quite fast, but whether we get a good version of his game or not remains to be seen.
On defense, Pierre has fallen quite far from when he was last with the team. He no longer has the appropriate range to play center field, and he is still the owner of one of the worst throwing arms in the game even from left field. But his range in left field is probably passable now, and he is almost certainly an upgrade over the bumbling Logan Morrison in Marlins Park's deep left field, so that has to be considered an advantage for the Fish.
What else can really be said about a player who has been a constant for most of his career, even as the perception of his game has changed? Let's move right to the projections.
As you can see, opinions do not vary much about Pierre's 2013 performance. All of the projection systems see him somewhere around .280/.330/.330, and that is not necessarily a positive for the Marlins. The average wOBA of .300 continues the team-wide theme of terrible batting lines, though Pierre's numbers are the best we have projected thus far for anyone not named Logan Morrison.
Of course, Pierre's offensive performance is not complete without baserunning, so we should tack on an additional four runs above average for baserunning just in case. As for defense, calling Pierre a league average defender is a conservative bet, as his skills should translate decently, but the numbers have been mixed on his performance.
Projection: 630 PA, 1.0 WAR
This projection shows how little production Pierre can provide for the team. Because he is not a good hitter or defender in left field, his value is severely depressed, even after his typically good baserunning. The Marlins would be lucky to get much more than one win out of the 36-year-old Pierre.
The Rest of the Team
One interesting question for Pierre's projection may be why I only put him down for 630 plate appearances. After all, Pierre should be our leadoff hitter for 2013, and rarely ever gets hurt, having missed just 24 games in the last four seasons. So why is he only playing this much? Because there is an outside chance a new Marlins fan favorite, prospect Christian Yelich, makes his debut this season. If Yelich does debut for the team, it will undoubtedly be as a starting player, and splitting his time between left and / or center field may cut into Pierre's playing time. After all, Pierre is simply a stopgap for the Marlins and should not get in the way of the development of their next star outfielder, and Yelich's early performance in spring training has turned enough heads that he may come up even earlier than September.
As for the team's true backup outfielders, Gorkys Hernandez and Bryan Petersen are in a battle for the last outfield spot, and for the Fish, the answer may be as simple as preserving the player with no options remaining. Hernandez is a better defender than Petersen, but not by much, and Petersen does have the better bat, though that is not a blowout by any means either. While the preference should be towards Petersen, the Marlins should not toss out any players given their roster, even guys as marginal as Hernandez.