In playing blackjack, there is a way to decrease the house advantage. This way of playing, basic strategy, limits the house advantage from somewhere around 0.64% for a six deck game to nearly even. The plays feel a little funny sometimes (hitting a hard 16 against a dealer’s seven up-card or a hard 12 against a dealer’s two) but there is a mathematical advantage to doing so, often used not to improve winnings but to mitigate the risk of losing. Juan Pierre, and his basic strategy skill set, has helped the Phillies to a 14-5 record in September, and has kept their playoff hopes on life support for the greater part of the month.
Like in blackjack, baseball has expected outcomes. Much like the cards “have a memory”, previous plays in baseball create outcomes that, by mathematical computation, have certain odds of occurring. For instance, Ryan Howard, in back-to-back games no less, hit two home runs off of left-handed relievers. Yet, even including those home runs, Howard, for his career, is only hitting .127 against them, with a home run in about 1 in 100 at bats. The home runs were certainly unexpected outcomes. Yet, Pierre in the second half, and the entire month of September, has been predictable as a clock, which is exactly what the Phillies have needed.
Pierre has had an excellent season, one by which FanGraphs puts him at 1.8 WAR, or an $8 million player. In a true bounce-back year, Pierre is 35 for 42 in stolen base attempts, with a triple-slash line (.318/.360/.385) that exceeds his career marks. Yet, credit must go to the Phillies, and in particular Charlie Manuel, for putting Pierre in situations where his expected outcomes are the most beneficial for the team. Take for instance Pierre’s splits. Against righties, Pierre is hitting .340/.383/.418 in 2012 while he’s hitting just .203/.230/.203 against lefties, a sharp contrast from his career lines, where Pierre actually has a true near-even split (.296/.342/.372 versus righties, .302/.359/.340 against lefties).
In September, it really has not mattered who Pierre is facing: .465/.500/.558 with only two strikeouts. Pierre is not only getting on base but he’s making productive outs and scoring runs (13). As part of a September platoon with Ty Wigginton, Pierre has been all anyone could have asked for and more. One thing is for sure: Pierre will have plenty of offers to choose from this off-season instead of just an invitation to minor league camp and the Phillies probably cannot and will not sign him.
A couple weeks back, my friend and former blog-mate here at PN, Michael Baumann, very astutely and intelligently laid out the case for trading Pierre to anyone who would take him for any reasonable return. I respected every argument Baumann put forth and for the most part agreed, except for that little piece of fan inside of me who is maddeningly entertaining the idea that the Phillies can still make the playoffs. As a writer, I wanted to write this to recognize what Pierre has done: very good production from an aging, slowed former speedster who was a disaster as a starter this year but has turned his game back around. While it is incredibly improbable that the Phillies make the playoffs in 2012, Pierre needs to hit against righties and would be a weapon in the postseason in the unlikely event the Phillies get there.