This won't take long. I shouldn't have to spend much time explaining to you guys why the White Sox can't possibly keep shooting themselves in the foot with a rocket launcher like this.
Now, to be clear, Juan Pierre isn't an awful baseball player. He makes loads of contact, he's generally been a good defender thanks to impressive range, and he's been one of the best base-runners in the game over the past ten years. Since becoming a full-time player in 2001, he's posted just one season with less than 2 WAR, back in 2008. So on one level, it's pretty easy to understand why Ozzie Guillen thinks that playing him is a good idea.
Unfortunately, there are two massive problems with that entire notion. First, Guillen isn't merely playing Pierre; he's put him in a position to be one of the offense's most important players, if you pay attention to the number of plate appearances he sees. The second problem is probably a bit more significant: the 32-year-old Pierre has looked absolutely awful this season.
A Juan Pierre season usually offers a few key things: a high batting average, an average-to-great UZR, and a whole lot of high-quality base-running. And when you're a player that rarely walks, has the pop of a week-old Coke, and arm strength that's more appropriate for the Pony League than the American League, you kind of need those other facets of your game to be pumping at all times. So far this season, though, he's 0-for-3 in those areas.
Pierre's batting average sits at .256, 40 points below his career average. His range is way down according to UZR, and among players with 400+ innings in left field this season, only Raul Ibanez has been graded as a worse defender. And possibly most shocking are his base-running numbers. Usually a lock for 50 to 70 steals per season as an everyday player, he's on pace to finish with roughly 20 this season, and his efficiency has been miserable: he's been caught almost as many times as he's been safe, just 10-for-20 on the season. This is like watching Kyle Korver miss three-pointers: without them, he feels so worthless.
And frankly, these are some scary numbers. Pierre has always been a guy that's all about speed, from his slap-and-run offensive game to his rangy defense in the outfield. But this season, there are indications that he's finally beginning to slow down. Between the lack of steals, the awful efficiency when he's tried to steal, and the declining range marks from UZR, it's not a stretch to believe that Father Time is finally beginning to take a toll on John Peter.
This isn't to say that Pierre can't be useful again. He's still not striking out (he's got more walks than strikeouts this year), and his numbers are probably deflated somewhat by a .271 BABIP (.313 career mark). But he's ridiculously over-matched in his current role as a contender's lead-off hitter and everyday left fielder, and given his performance so far, Chicago may have already cost itself two to three games in the win column.
The Sox have legitimate alternatives. Dayan Viciedo is absolutely killing the ball at Triple-A, and Scouting The Sally's Mike Newman recently called him the 13th-best prospect he's ever seen in person- ahead of names like Logan Morrison, Desmond Jennings and Casey Kelly. He'll be a poor defender out in left, but the offensive upgrade would be massive, and would likely off-set whatever advantage Pierre has in the field.
And if Ozzie can't quite tolerate the idea of Carlos Quentin and Viciedo, two below-average defenders, flanking Alex Rios in the outfield, they could always bump the intriguing Brent Lillibridge into the lineup and see how much of his current .261/.357/.495 line is sustainable in regular action. Heck, even 27-year-old Alejandro de Aza is worth considering at this point, given his .305/.369/.476 line in Triple-A over the past three years.
Pierre is known as one of the hardest workers in the game, and that effort has often been reflected quite well by his play over the years. But time takes its toll, and he's played over 2000 games professionally in his career. The White Sox are on the fringes of contention, facing the realities of a weak farm system and limited payroll in the near future. There's still one place where they can massively improve, though, and it's by taking Juan Pierre out of left field and erasing his name from the top of the lineup card.
(All statistical data is courtesy of FanGraphs.com)