Ok, I'll admit, thetitle isdeliberately sensational and probably something of an exaggeration. That said... Ryan Theriot isn't a very good baseball player. More to the point, he's a very overrated baseball player.When your best qualification is "better than the washed-up remains of Cesar Izturis," well, that's not precisely a ringing endorsement.
Before we go any further, let us give ourselves a substantial bit of information about Ryan Theriot.
I'll probably drop in a few more links here and there, but unless I do, those pages are where you can go to check the info I'm giving.
Ryan Theriot's Offense, 2007
Ryan Theriot'sthree rate stats are .266/.326/.346. That's an OPS of .672, OPS+ of 72, for those of you keeping score at home. His weighted mean PECOTA projection was .267/.325/.350, nothing if not wildly on the mark, so it's not like this line should be considered some sort of disappointment. If you want to take a look at PrOPS, which works off perhipial stats to try and see how luck played into things, it's still not a pretty picture. It seems like he was cheated out of a whole .049 of his OPS through the vagaries of bad luck and opposing defenses.
Looking simply at his offense, Ryan Theriot seems to be right around replacement level for a shortstop. His offense is wildly below league average, which hurts him even at a position that's not exactly a premium position for offense.
Ryan Theriot's Defense, 2007
If a counterpoint to Ryan Theriot's liabilities on offense is to be made, it is his defense. If we take a look at Rally's conversion of the competing Zone Ratings into runs, Theriot looks just a shade above average. The caveat here: Ryan Theriot is wildly loved by the STATS, Inc. ZR, and thought much less highly of by the BIS ZR. Why is this important? Because BIS does a much better job of accounting for Out Of Zone balls (or at least, are much more willing to share this info.) A look at Theriot's fielding stats from The Hardball Times shows that he's not all that great at getting to balls Out Of Zone.
So what's going on here? The Fan's Scouting Report gives us a good look at what's going on here, although I would personally be inclined to take all of these numbers with a grain of salt - Theriot, after all, being something of a "fan favorite" player is just the sort of player likely to be overrated in a poll like this.
Theriot's top comps defensively, according to the Fans, are largely second basemen. This shouldn't suprise anyone - Theriot was considered a second baseman/utility infielderto start the sesion, and only the massive suckitude of the Wizard of Iz made anyone think otherwise. His weakest tools defensively are his first step and especially his arm strength - and arm strength is very important for shortstops. That said, the fans still rate him as well above average defensively. [That, incidently, is probably a big reason Theriot's value as a fill-in defensively at third base was so poor, comparably- arm strength is a huge part of being a third baseman.]
Rally's ZR/runs conversion thinks that Theriot is probably three runs above average defensively at shortstop. I can live with that assesment, I suppose.
Will He Get Better Next Year?
Defensively speaking, I don't see there being any reason to think that he'll improve, but I don't see that he's so old that he'll wildly degrade out there at shortstop. So he's probably going to put together a marginally above average year out there, defensively.
As far as his offense improving... I hear people talk about the idea that he would become better offensively next season. I've never seen anyone provide any sort of a reason for this. If you were to look at his hitting month by month since he made his mark on the majors in 2006, what you would basically see is a downward-pointing line; Ryan Theriot has pretty much gotten worse the more time he spends in the majors.
The 2007 PECOTAs (two-year forecasts being less reliable than one-year forecasts, these should be taken with a grain of salt) say that Theriot should pretty much stay the same offensively in 2008. The only projections we have that take into account 2007 stats are the CAIRO projections from the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog -- a mildly enhanced version of Tango's MARCELS projections. They're not the best, but they're what we have so far, and they're not actually bad, like some of the seedier for-pay fantasy projection systems are.
And what does CAIRO say about 2008 for Ryan Theriot? .267/.323/.365. Remember, in '07 he went .266/.326/.346. If it is an improvement, it's not a substantial one.
Can we do a better job of projecting Theriot's performance than the computers? Theoretically, sure, but it's not easy. We'd have to know something the computer doesn't or can't to be very confident about it. If anyone has any ideas as to why Theriot will beat the computer projections, I'd love to hear them.
If we go by Ryan Theriot's top comparable by age -- Tony Womack, if you'll believe it, according to baseball-reference.com -- there's very little reason to suspect that he'll get better from here on out, or even be very good. What if we tell THAT computer to shove it and go by everyone's favorite top comp for him, David Eckstein... well, David Eckstein's best year was at age 27. (Which is actually pretty common -- Theriot, at age 27, just finished what was probably his peak season, given an average aging curve.) Eckstein's age 27 season was his second full year in the majors, which I suppose gives a glimmer of hope.
Theriot's a high energy/spark plug/hustle sort of player!
Which, I think, is really the problem here. The reason Theriot is probably best used as a utility fill-in is because he's a solid, but not spectacular, defender at the infield positions, and can provide reasonable offense -- particularly OBP -- on a short-term basis.
But he's probably overmatched as an everday player. The baseball season is 162 games long, and it seems to me like Theriot's high-energy playing style means that he can't be an 162-game sort of player. He just doesn't have enough in the tank to give full-effort every game and last through an 162 game season. I think that's true of just about every player, actually; the difference with Theriot is, he just doesn't have enough underlying talent to allow him to save something for the end of the season and remain a productive bat in the lineup.
So, in fact, I would expect him to get worse - he only started in 131 games this season, and played in 148. Expecting him to start a whole season could well depress his production further.
Well, with our other big bats in the lineup, we should be able to have one bad hitter.
I've never understood this line of arguement. First of all, the Cubs were below-average in offense last season. And if our starting pitching hadn't been the second-best in the NL, we probably wouldn't have made the playoffs, simple as that. The emergency of Geovanny Soto took care of the sucking chest wound that was the 2007 Cubs catching, and that position was probably the one with the biggest potential for improvement.
Or so I thought.
Here's the Cubs team splits; scroll down for the hitting by position. The attrocious Cubs catching corps hit .239/.304/.369, which is a sOPS+ of 89. [sOPS+ is used for splits; it uses the league average for that split (in this case, just the average for all catchers) instead of the league average overall for the baseline.] Shortstop? .254/.309/.331, for an sOPS+ of 75.
Theriot was better than Izturis and Cedeno were in 2007, but not by as much as you might think. Izturis OPSed .617; Cedeno .623. [This is not the "Ronny Cedeno Is Underrated" diary; I've written that before, and nothing's really changed there. So I'll leave that alone for now.]
So shortstop could stand to be upgraded offensively just as much as catcher could; and you can't argue that the team couldn't use the extra production. By contrast, Cubs right fielders hit .293/.375/.419, for a sOPS+ of 99, almost right at the league average for right fielders. (Defensively... well, let's not go there.) It's a lot harder, and a lot more expensive, to find a substantial upgrade in right field than it is to find a substantial upgrade at shortstop.
At least he's better than Neifi.
This is going to hurt, folks.
This is the record of the sad career of Neifi Neftali Perez.I know it hurts to look; the only way to avoid the sins of the past is to remember them. Never forget.
The two years to concern ourselves with:
Neifi, debut season: 291/.333/.444, OPS+ 86
Neifi, age 27: .287/.314/.427, OPS+ 69
Theriot, debut/27: .266/.326/.346, OPS+ 72
OPS+ is park factor adjusted, so it knows Neifi was aided by Coors and doesn't give him credit for that.
Mitigating factors are a wash; Theriot's probably marginally more useful offensively than OPS+ is recognizing here, due to the higher OBP, but Neifi was almost unquestionably the better defensive player.
This isn't to say that Theriot is guaranteed Neifi's career path, or that Theriot isn't more useful than Neifi is currently.
But there is more than a little truth to the notion that Theriot is a lot like Neifi Perez.
This isn't to say that Theriot can't be useful; this isn't to say that Theriot is a bad human being. But it is to say that the Cubs would be reckless and stupid to go into 2008 with nothing but Ryan Theriot and a bunch of prayers at shortstop. He's just not very good.