- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Entering Tuesday, 15 of the 18 players who had stolen six or more bases this season were owned in either all ESPN standard mixed leagues or close to it, leaving three players behind. One is perpetually overlooked Toronto Blue Jays speedster Rajai Davis. The other two are left-handed hitters who were on display this past weekend in Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, and after Friday night's game I was able to speak to both Miami Marlins left fielder Juan Pierre and Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Ben Revere about their slow starts.
Neither player is performing as they or fantasy owners expected, because a month ago they were far more popular, but they're still stealing bases, which to many matters most. Revere has been battling minor injuries and fell from the leadoff spot recently, but Pierre is still leading off at age 35, and nobody in the major leagues has more steals, making his paltry ownership (35.9 percent) seem odd. After all, he's on pace for 59 stolen bases, which nobody approached last season. On Thursday, he swiped his 600th career base, by far the most among active players and in the top 20 all time. He also reached base four times Sunday, three via base hit, concluding a week in which he hit .320, stole five bases and scored six runs. After Friday night's game, I asked the always-friendly Pierre, hitting .219 at the time but now at .237, why he was struggling.
"I'm feeling good, running isn't the problem, it's getting on base that's been the problem for me this year," Pierre noted with a smile. "Hopefully I'll start swinging the bat better. Fortunately, I've been in this situation before in my career early to start a season, so you just continue working."
True, Pierre's career numbers back that up, as April is by far his worst month for hits, walks, OPS and stolen bases. And while he has never been the perfect baseball player (no power, no arm), few have been better over the years in steals, and little has changed. In 2010, Pierre led the majors with 68 steals. In the two seasons since, Michael Bourn is the only other player to top 50 (61 steals in 2011). Pierre looked a bit done in 2011, but he hit .307 in a part-time role with 37 steals for these Phillies last year, earning a one-year deal with downtrodden Miami. After going 1-for-3 with a walk late Monday night in San Diego, things are looking better and he's one of the most-added players in ESPN leagues, and should be. I asked him about the perception about him slowing down at age 35.
"I don't think so," he said. "People might say I am, but you become a lot smarter, knowing pitchers, knowing what to read, knowing when to go and sometimes when not to go. You want to go every pitch, at least I do. The most important thing for me is scoring runs."
Fantasy owners might be shying away from Pierre, the leadoff hitter for the worst offensive team in the game, but Pierre is on pace for 79 runs, which isn't bad at all in context. Frankly, while Pierre wouldn't discuss the possibility of finishing the season with a contending team, this does exist and could increase his value. How about the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that used second baseman Kelly Johnson in left field Monday, and whose leadoff hitter (Desmond Jennings) could move down in the order.
While the left-handed hitting Pierre is turning his season around, the struggling Revere was used only in relief for defensive purposes Monday night against tough San Francisco Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner. It has been a rough introduction to the National League for the affable Revere, who hit .294 with 40 steals for the Minnesota Twins last season, but brings a .212 batting average into Tuesday, though he has six stolen bases. Revere has struggled to make contact, which is odd for him, and he has grounded into five double plays already, after hitting into eight all of last season. Sure, Revere hits more ground balls than anyone else in the game and possesses not a lick of power, but he seems overwhelmed at the plate. He has reached base via bunt hit only once so far and his strikeout rate is elevated.
"I'm mainly working on getting back to my old swing," said Revere, who ranks fifth in stolen bases since the start of 2011, behind only Bourn, Coco Crisp, Davis and Jose Reyes. "I'm getting too intense up there, have to play within myself. Come to a new team, there's a higher stake and everything, bigger city. I just haven't been myself lately."
Baseball is a small fraternity, and I asked Pierre, whom I spoke to first, about Revere's issues at the plate. The two are friends from when each was in the AL, Pierre with the Chicago White Sox. Pierre's take was that playing in Philadelphia and in a new league can wear on a player, but also that "he'll be fine, he'll get his rhythm and steal over 40 or 50 bases. He's still a young kid. People don't like to hear that around here [in Philadelphia], but you see the potential he has in him."
Like Pierre, Revere doesn't seem concerned with the base stealing aspect of his game, but he just hasn't been on base enough. He did marvel at his veteran friend reaching 600 stolen bases, however. "Learning from him made me a better base stealer. Me and him, we're fast guys. We can't go up try to overdo it, swing at bad pitches and get out by popping up, but we've gotta be patient at the plate, take a walk and get on, the [batting] average may not be what we want, but OBP might be."
For the record, I see both these gentlemen stealing more than 40 bases this season, which I think means their current ownership figures are low. Each has hit into some bad luck. Pierre has a .265 BABIP, which will go up, and hopefully his .287 OBP has 50 points of upward movement left as well. Revere's BABIP is number is .250, a year after being .325. They will play, Pierre because the Marlins have few options and can always move him if he plays well, Revere because he's far better than this and potentially elite defensively. If choosing, at this point I'd go with Pierre. No fantasy team should own both of them, for they are similar and offer no power, but Revere is going to get comfortable at the plate and produce. Remember, he was in the minor leagues much of last April, and stole 36 bases after June 1. It's a long season.
Eric Karabell discusses what to expect the rest of the season from slow starters Juan Pierre and Ben Revere.