ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 2: Reliever Maikel Cleto #62 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts to giving up a home run to the San Francisco Giants in his major league debut at Busch Stadium on June 2, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
I imagine fielding percentage as the crotchetiest of all baseball stats—a crabbed old guy in a wheelchair who sits in front of the television making vaguely racist statements during episodes of Judge Judy. Most of the time he's content to complain in ill-tempered obscurity, but if you get far enough up his lawn to set off the blogs you're liable to be chased off it with a loaded shotgun. Ryan Theriot is now fielding .951, and the best way I can contextualize that is this—the last time a fielding percentage in that range led National League shortstops, it belonged to Rabbit Maranville, of the 1916 Boston Braves.
Rabbit Maranville was a brilliant defensive shortstop (and noted Clown Price of Baseball) whose glove would be most useful today for removing Pizza Bagels from an oven, or performing an impromptu Michael Jackson impression after being sent back in time to 1916. Pete Kozma's disastrous year with the glove in 2010: .948. This year the National League is fielding .972 as a whole at the position, which is just about Ryan Theriot's career fielding percentage.
This is probably a fluke, as when Brendan Ryan had his own famous run of fielding gaffes and finished, on the season, right in line with league average, but it's a frustrating fluke—it's the kind of fluke that accentuates a mistake, instead of temporarily masking a positive. Theriot is not a great shortstop; at his best he's an average one who makes up for his not-greatness with a solid bat, and if you took away the errors that's exactly what he's doing.
But it remains difficult, even after the start of the Maikel Cleto era, to rationalize the chain of decisions that led to Theriot and Ryan not sharing the field, which has left the Cardinals with a scuffling Tyler Greene and an invisible Pete Kozma as the only other options at a position for which Donovan Solano is the next organizational player in line. This didn't need to happen, and now Theriot is reminding us, with every bobbled grounder, that it did.
As for Cleto—that fastball is even better than I thought it would be (average velocity: 97.86) but he didn't look like the guy who's put together an excellent start to the season in the minor leagues so much as the guy who served as the punchline to the Cardinals tossing away their depth at shortstop. The second inning was nice, though, and I can't exactly fault them for the call-up, seeing as the team has used up its supply of ready-made MLB relievers and has decided to permanently install Mitchell Boggs in limbo; Jess Todd would have been my choice, but he hasn't done much to impress anyone at Memphis.
Lance Lynn, though—that was a nice debut, albeit with a terrible ending.
The way Lynn pitched Thursday made me wonder whether or not the most dogmatic excesses of the Dave Duncan regime have cooled off since we watched Anthony Reyes erupt in a plude of ash, sinkers, and ligaments. Lynn looked nothing like the big, finesse-focused lump of Duncan that the Cardinals were supposed to have drafted; three of his five strikeouts came on 94-mph fastballs that came in over the top of the strike zone, with one coming on a terrible-looking slidurve and the fifth on a nice changeup.
Four-seamer-Lynn struggled with home runs in his first exposure to the Pacific Coast League, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen again, even without a return visit from Ryan Theriot's Keystone Kop routine. But as long as he's the Cardinals' sixth-best starter the rotation is in good shape, and while he's much less exciting than Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez he seems like he could be a capable fifth starter right now.