Ryan Theriot vs. the second basemen

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - AUGUST 07: Ryan Theriot #3 of the St. Louis Cardinals makes a catch during a game against the Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on August 7, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

[Note: this post is not to be confused with the 1950s Cajunsploitation horror film Ryan Theriot Vs. The Second Baseman.Since the Cardinals traded for Rafael Furcal before July 31's game against the Cubs erstwhile shortstop Ryan Theriot has not appeared at shortstop a single time. Since two days before that he hasn't appeared at shortstop a single time.

One of the things this says: The moment Daniel Descalso, converted two times over from third base, became a more viable option at shortstop than Ryan Theriot is the moment at which it became permanently clear that the Cardinals are at least as disappointed in Theriot's performance to date as Cardinals fans are, if not Viva El Birdos Cardinals fans; if they weren't I'm not sure the Rafael Furcal thing would have moved from rumor to trade so quickly. 

I'm not giving the Cardinals credit for this so much as acknowledging that they were able to see that Theriot, who was supposed to just be a mediocre shortstop, has spent all year doing a fine imitation of a terrible shortstop. (And doing it in the most conspicuous way possible, with a fielding percentage—.958—so bad it's worth mentioning.) Even though his offense has—thanks almost entirely to league and park factors, which makes it less visibly impressive and somehow more suspicious—bounced back from its 2010 nadir, no player is valuable when he's been a full season's worth of defensively inept in two-thirds of a season's worth of innings. 

So now, for what it's worth, Ryan Theriot is lumped in with the second basemen. His final value at the position is dependent on whether or not he's as historically bad there as he was at shortstop—more importantly, I think, whether his historical badness is the new Ryan Theriot or an off-year—but in the meantime we're left with a player who's hitting more or less at his career averages, which are underwhelming but usable on the bench. Maybe. 

Possible uses for Ryan Theriot the Second Baseman

1. Lefty-competenting platoon option. Lefty-mashing seemed somehow inappropriate for a player with 17 career home runs, but Ryan Theriot has a .373 OBP against left-handers in not nearly enough plate appearances (808) to assume he'll keep doing it. 

Take the splits to date out of the picture and this still seems like a palatable role; Theriot's a decent hitter for a middle infielder, and the Cardinals' primary second baseman is a left-hander as lead-gloved as Theriot. As long as everyone else is hurt or, in Daniel Descalso's case, also left-handed, I'm okay with a basically straight platoon. 

Unfortunately for Theriot, not everyone will be hurt forever, only Nick Punto. Allen Craig would in most situations be a Hail Mary option at second base, but Theriot's in the awkward position of not having any defensive value to speak of, even against prospects who couldn't stick at third base. 

2. Tyler Greene motivational tool. In 41 games for Memphis Tyler Greene is hitting .344/.428/.619. He, too, believes he should not be in Memphis behind Ryan Theriot. I, too, believe he should not be in Memphis behind Ryan Theriot. 

3. Ballast. With the Cardinals apparently unwilling to just keep Tyler Greene around until they have a better option, the Cardinals have no better option for filling this roster spot than Ryan Theriot. They're already carrying three catchers, and behind Theriot in Memphis lurk Pete Kozma (.558 OPS), Donovan Solano (.733), Freddie Bynum (.685), players who threaten the very idea of the replacement level with their inadequacy. Even after Craig comes back I'd rather have Theriot than Tony Cruz (or, in a perfect world, Gerald Laird.)

The problem with Ryan Theriot as a utility infielder is that, in 2011, you don't want him anywhere near the infield. His skill-set, at the moment, is that he can hit a little and he was as recently as last year not the worst defensive infielder on planet earth. That's what the last infielder on the bench looks like—and it looks like that's exactly what Theriot has belatedly become. 

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