Remember when Juan Pierre used to be good? I do. As a Marlins fan, I remember him being an amazing asset to our 2003 World Series team. He was fast, covered a lot of ground in center field, and consistently hit .300 or better.
I was right and wrong back then. Pierre was never a great hitter, though his baserunning and the fact that he had a solid OBP around .360-.370 kept him around the league average when he was with the Marlins. He did cover ground in center field, but he had one of the worst arms in baseball, and he still does. Overall, back in the day, he had seasons of 4.3 and 3.6 WAR for the Marlins before dipping below average in 2005. He had a fine season for the Cubs in 2006, though he did not hit at all for them. Then he signed with the Dodgers and bottomed out, offensively and defensively.
What's the point? Well, Pierre doesn't project for much this season, even after a "renaissance" season filling in for Manny Ramirez. But Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams seems to think that this is the Pierre is still in his 2006 form, maybe even his 2009 form, when the reality is that Pierre is probably still the man he was in 2007 and 2008.
It's really simple. Pierre hasn't had a BABIP over .330 since 2004. He put up a BABIP of .331 this season. When we check out his BABIP on batted balls (courtesy of Baseball-Reference) you see that he posted very high averages on grounders and fly balls compared to his career numbers, which more closely match the league averages for 2009. In particular, Pierre's fly ball BABIP was close to .100 better than both his career value and the 2009 average. We often say that faster players can expect better BABIP numbers, but we can safely suggest that, no matter how fast you run, you cannot outrun a fly ball play. To be fair, Pierre also posted career lows in terms of line drive BABIP, down to .574 from his career .704 average. Those two may indeed even themselves out; according to B-R, Pierre has hit almost the same number of fly balls and line drives over his career. Still, this leaves us with the difference between his career .239 BABIP on ground balls versus a .286 BABIP from 2009. I'd hedge my bet on a return to the .239 BABIP.
The rest of Pierre's offensive skillset remains the same. I don't think the BtB reader needs to be reminded that no-power, no-patience speedsters have very little offensive value. The brunt of Pierre's worth would have to come from his defense, and he is not exactly Ichiro in that respect.
(Funny side note on Ichiro. Clearly, he is the best player with Pierre's limited skillset. Ichiro's best offensive season, likely the offensive limit for players of this type, was 2004, when he posted a .378 wOBA according to FanGraphs and was worth 35 runs better than average. Suzuki's worst offensive seasons were in 2005 and 2008, when he posted BABIP's of .316 and .334 and wOBA's of .336 and .339 respectively. If we look at his second worst season, 2008, it compares quite well with Pierre's 2009, which according to wOBA was his second best season. Just thought it was an interesting comparison. Carry on.)
Pierre has a noodle of an arm. Over his career, he's been worth -44 runs on defense with his arm alone. This was part of the reason he was moved from center field, where he regularly posted -6 to -8 runs a season with his arm, to left field. Pierre still covers decent ground in the outfield, but that question really depends on where Pierre will be played. If he is kept in left field, he could remain a positive for the White Sox in the field. BtB's own Jeff Zimmerman projects Pierre at +3 runs / 150. Sean Smith has his own projection of +6 runs in the time that it would take for Pierre to rack up 502 at-bats. This is the most likely occurrence, as I believe Pierre will be pegged to move to left field, bumping Carlos Quentin to the DH spot.
Giving Pierre a projected wOBA (as more or less projected by the Fans and Bill James, it would seem) of .311, with a league average of .330, makes Pierre worth around -9.5 runs offensively in 600 PA. If that passes as 150 games (which I doubt he would get to), the modest Zimmerman projection of +3 runs in that time period yields 6.6 Runs Above Replacement, or 0.7 WAR. And that's if Pierre plays 150 games. Considering that Pierre is still owed $10M this season and $8.5M the next and, well, you figure out what's wrong with giving up anything for the privilege of his play.