the continuing roster machinations in the wake of the Trade are interesting. tyler greene was put into the lineup at shortstop last night, taking over from daniel descalso. it was particularly intriguing that ryan theriot, whose play has been questioned here any number of times, was put in as a pinch hitter, then returned on defense as a second baseman. now, the wires are abuzz with rumors of us talking to LA about rafael furcal.
the post-dispatch tells us that ryan theriot has been "struggling recently" which is accurate if the phrase means "terrible all year long, and getting progressively worse."
when we first traded for theriot, he complained that he "never enjoyed playing [second base] as much as at shortstop and partly attributed a subpar offensive season to his discomfort in the field."
theriot stated yesterday "he didn't mind playing at second, and that he will do what is best for the team." that is clever player doublespeak for "please don't trade me to houston for clint barmes." who, incidentally, houston calls unavailable, for whatever such assertions are worth.
"[Playing second base is] kind of fun actually," Theriot said. "It's something new, you know. What we do is such a repetitive thing."
tony la russa had in the off-season gone along with ryan theriot's theory of paralyzing inability to hit whilst playing second base in the other half of the inning. la russa apparently assured theriot that he would be the primary starting shortstop and would not be asked to play any other position. that agreement evidently came with an explicit or implicit proviso that ryan theriot (.287 wOBA) would not hit like, well, corey patterson (.285 wOBA), or field like yuniesky betancourt (-19.9 UZR/150; theriot -18.8 UZR/150).
theriot also said this:
And I enjoy second base. Second base is fun.
oh, wait, he didn't say that yesterday. he said that a year and a half ago when rumors were rampant that starlin castro would be starting at shortstop for chicago, and before his offense fell apart.
now, tony la russa has disavowed his earlier theory that playing at shortstop is key to making ryan theriot hit well. which is an appropriate action: ryan theriot's second base-afflicted 2010 resulted in a .286 wOBA, a whopping one point lower than his current wOBA. yesterday, tony even insisted the opposite to be the case:
"It was less for Ryan to have to think about," manager Tony La Russa said after the game. "He's played second."
hooray! playing second base makes you hit worse unless it makes you hit better!! it stresses you out unless it takes a load off your mind! it's fun unless it makes you uncomfortable! keeping things the same is better unless you like doing different things! we have always been at war with eastasia! no one is platooning ryan theriot with daniel descalso! ryan theriot will make our clubhouse better with his magical chemistry set of a personality!!! we have traded ryan theriot to the kansas city royals for a player to be named later/given him his unconditional release! whoops, that last one is sunday's release.
theriot now has, essentially, no use on this team. if you had to keep him, you'd only play him at second base in relief of skip schumaker against left-handers, against whom theriot is hitting a .330 wOBA. that's about it. otherwise, theriot is at or below replacement value in pretty much any situation.
one of the many things that makes me annoyed about this situation is that it epitomizes the ridiculousness of the anti-analytical management perspective. traditionalists like to disparage statistical analysis, and emphasize the human element of the game. and, i admit, there surely is a human element of the game.
the problem is that there is no way to verify any theory when the sample size is one person. the fact that these "human element" theories are totally unverifiable allows people to endlessly dress up their prejudices and hunches with nonsensical justifications, like the above situation illustrates. step one: develop a hypothesis ("ryan theriot's hitting suffers when he plays second base"); step two: analyze theory ("uh, ryan theriot, who has every reason to look for a reason to excuse a year of terrible offensive performance, says the theory is true"); step three: implement theory (ryan theriot plays at shortstop and is the worst starting shortstop in the majors not named betancourt). this process is just not a way of coming to any meaningful conclusions, and it's a terrible way to run a business of any kind, including a baseball team.
there was endless discussion in the media of team chemistry and how "relaxed" our clubhouse was when we were 10 games over .500. there aren't a lot of those articles now. the people haven't changed (except, you know, a certain malcontent who is no longer in the ranks). but it's harder to fit that "great chemistry" narrative to the team that's trailing the brewers and having long stretches of losing records. does that mean the team doesn't have great chemistry? does that mean the team has great chemistry but their chemistry doesn't help them play better? i don't know which of the above is true. i do know that just as people look for some narrative to explain when they fail, people try to create narratives for why they succeed. we don't have to buy into those narratives, however.
news flash: ed wade does something right
the astros sold high on outfielder hunter pence yesterday, getting two top 50 prospects, a fairly generic reliever, and a PTBNL. which is a pretty good haul, given that hunter pence is more or less ryan ludwick three years ago on a heroically lucky tear.
pence is perennially a pretty decent, if unspectacular hitter. his wOBA's in order 2008-2010: .334, .351, .341.
the reason pence garnered so much attention this year, is that his hitting has bumped up a pretty decent measure; he's now batting .365 by wOBA.
that's a .365 wOBA, with a .370 BABIP.
and yes, everyone is tired of talking about BABIP, so consider everything else. he's walking at the same rate as he has over his career (6.7% 2011 v. 6.8% career), striking out a tick more (20.0% 2011 v. 18.1%), and actually hitting for less power (ISO .163 2011 v. .190 career). in fact, his ISO is the worst it's ever been and it's beendeclining every season. his K rate - though not hugely out of step with his career rate -- is his worst ever.
it is only fair to say he is hitting for more line drives than before (17.5% 2011 v. 15.7% career), which may explain some of the BABIP boost, but nowhere near all of it. even a 17.5% LD rate would put him in the lowest quarter of qualified hitters by LD rate, yet pence has the fifth-highest BABIP in the majors (keeping company with four others with LD rates over 20% or close to it - adrian gonzalez with 19.7%). at worst, he's benefitting from nothing but illusory, good batted ball luck; at best, he's become more of a shallow OF line drive single kind of guy, considering the continued decline of his ISO numbers.
there's also the question of his defense. his defensive numbers have declined for two years running. he had two excellent years by UZR (12.2 and 11.6) in 2008 and 2009. however over the last season and a half, he's dropped to 1.3 and -5.0. even considering the high noise level in UZR, he's probably not a great fielder at this point, possibly only somewhat above average.
in short, pence is a guy with almost nothing moving in the right direction, except his LD rate, his batting average, and his BABIP. the astros did well to sell him off at his peak. considering that we got a fairly dicey ML starter coming off injury, and a non-entity of a LOOGY for the sale of ludwick a few seasons after his peak, the astros got terrific value for someone who's likely to be worth 2.5-3 WAR next year, but cost a ton to retain long term.
even leaving aside the issues with pence's actual production and talent, such a move was ripe, regardless. the astros desperately wanted to retool, and needed increasingly expensive veteran athletes to step aside, be traded, and bring back prospects for the next season's team.
on the other end of the deal, this trade seems to me to affirm my impression of ruben amaro as impulsive and fairly thoughtless in player acquisition. amaro seems to latch on to big-name players, because they have a name that carries a certain cachet. the ryan howard extension, among other steps, suggested this read on him. this trade has a high chance of working out poorly for philadelphia, an aging team who has already mortgaged a big chunk of its future to be really good right now. philadelphia was not in any danger of missing the playoffs, and you had to like their chances already. standing pat, or finding a less expensive way to fill the outfield temporarily, would have seemed like a better plan.