Pierre runs to the beat of more success
In second year in AL, leadoff man seeks even better results
CHICAGO -- The first season with the White Sox for Juan Pierre was somewhat akin to a student moving from out of town into a new school district.
There's always that adjustment period of getting to know your fellow classmates, or teammates in this case, and how things are done differently in the new area. Take the American League Central, for example.
Pierre had spent his previous 10 successful seasons as part of the National League with the Rockies, Marlins, Cubs and Dodgers. But in 2010, Pierre had to learn about the rivalries important on the South Side of Chicago.
"I remember last year at [SoxFest] people were asking about Minnesota, and I didn't know anything about Minnesota, the significance behind it," said Pierre with a laugh during an interview at SoxFest 2011. "Now, I know the rivalry with Minnesota and Detroit gets pretty intense. It's good having that under my belt."
Even with Pierre learning the ins and outs of the AL and struggling with a .193 start in April and a .223 finish in September, the leadoff man put up numbers fairly commensurate with his previous career totals. Pierre's .275 average and .341 on-base percentage fell a tick below his lifetime numbers of .298 and .347, respectively. He didn't exactly flash big power numbers, with a slugging percentage of .316 marking a career worst.
But the White Sox didn't obtain Pierre in order for him to consistently clear the outfield fences or fire shots into the gaps. Pierre is the lightning-fast catalyst at the top of the order who truly makes manager Ozzie Guillen's offense run smoother.
When examining that specific job description, Pierre had an extremely solid White Sox debut. He scored 96 runs for an offense hit by inconsistency, and Pierre's 68 stolen bases were the second most in club history behind Rudy Law's total of 77 in 1983.
Those 68 stolen bases moved Pierre from 47th to 27th on baseball's all-time list and left him as the first White Sox player since Luis Aparicio in 1961 to lead the Majors in this category. Pierre became the second Major Leaguer to swipe at least 50 bases with four different teams, joining Otis Nixon, and moved into elite company with Ron LeFlore as the only two players to lead the AL and NL in stolen bases.
"It will be nice to tell my kids one day," said Pierre of matching LeFlore, who once played for the White Sox, but won his stolen base titles with the Tigers in 1978 and the Expos in '80. "With all the great basestealers, I would think someone would have done it before, because I know Rickey Henderson bounced to the NL later in his career.
"Or maybe Tim Raines? I guess that's a pretty good feat. I take a lot of pride in my stolen bases, with a lot of homework put into it. It's cool to look back and say that's something I accomplished."
In order to fine-tune his basestealing ability, Pierre watches the pitchers' moves both live and on video. He watches how they go to home plate and gets assistance from assistant hitting coach Mike Gellinger before coming up with a baserunning game plan.
"When I go against a pitcher with a really quick or a really good pickoff move, I have to be more cautious," Pierre said. "But I never shut it down like I can't run off this guy."
Simply put, other big league players might work as hard as Pierre, but nobody outworks the good-natured veteran. And Pierre is willing to share that knowledge gained, actually working last Spring Training with Jared Mitchell, the five-tool top pick of the White Sox in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, who figures to be Pierre's replacement in left field and at leadoff.
Even when Mitchell lost the 2010 campaign to a torn tendon on the inside of his left ankle, suffered during a Cactus League contest, Pierre stayed in contact with the outfield prodigy.
"He's not a guy who floods you with information, but he definitely helped," said Mitchell of Pierre. "He was a guy who watched and let you see how he works.
"You've got questions, and he answers anything for you. Juan is a great guy to be around and to learn from. He's got that professional attitude you want to be around."
Adam Dunn hitting in the middle of the 2011 White Sox lineup, as well as bringing back Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski, should automatically bump up Pierre's runs total. Individual statistics never matter to Pierre, though, unless they come in the context of a division title.
Having that first year under his belt with the White Sox and in the AL should make an even greater difference for Pierre, who no longer is the new kid in town.
"Oh, without a doubt," Pierre said. "I had a lot of games last year where I would go the whole game and face guys I never faced or saw before. Another year in the league will help me get more comfortable, but I don't make any excuses. With the way I work, I should be ready to hit anybody.
"That one year, even knowing the [White Sox] team, playing with guys like Konerko and knowing what they like and don't like, it's great being here another year. But it's not about 100 runs or stolen bases. I'm at the point of my career where I never was a stat guy, but now it's more so all about winning."