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Ryan Theriot: Know Your Scrappy Middle Infielder

Jeff Gordon's latest article is about focus, and how last year the Cardinals didn't have it. I'm willing to support that premise, aesthetically, at least; they just didn't always (or even often) look like a team bound for great things. I'm less willing to buy the idea that the Cardinals just upgraded their focus by acquiring Ryan Theriot, a "gritty La Russa-type player in the David Eckstein mold."

For one thing, Ryan Theriot wouldn't even fit in the David Eckstein mold. David Eckstein—how long has "Just Enough" been a nickname on his Baseball-Reference page?—is listed at 5'8", while T.H. Eriot (i'm officially moving to cut Theriot's name up in as many different ways as possible, so that The Riot doesn't seem so out of place) is listed at 5'11". Suggesting he fits into David Eckstein's mold is—is it racist? Is gritty a race? Anyway, for another, Ryan Theriot doesn't play like an especially focused guy. 

First, I guess, we need to decide what focus means. Gordon offers running into extra outs of the basepaths, yielding extra outs in the field, and giving away at-bats against bad pitchers. That works for me. (To his credit, Gordon doesn't suggest that Theriot competes or plays any harder than our unfocused incumbent; that's the one sportswriter trope that I really can't deal with.)

Ryan Theriot is not an especially focused baserunner. After a fine 2007, in which he stole 28 bases in 32 attempts, he's stolen 63 and been caught 32 times. He does fit into the Eckstein mold here, for what it's worth—Eckstein was also a poor base-stealer, taking 28 and being caught 15 times in his Cardinals career. Over the last three years Theriot's been basically flat as a baserunner, according to Sean Smith's numbers. 

In his two years as Cardinals starter Brendan Ryan's been almost identical—fractionally better—as a base-stealer, and flat himself as a baserunner. This is going to be a recurring theme: Ryan and The Rio T might act differently, but regardless of their apparent focus they're doing the same thing. 

This next one is my favorite. Last year Brendan Ryan "made uncharacteristic throwing errors", leading to a career-low fielding percentage of .974 at shortstop. Last year Ryan Theriot was uncharacteristically bad at hitting, and played just 28 games at shortstop. His fielding percentage was .974. (His career fielding percentage at shortstop is .976; Ryan's is .979, which shows just how much fuss can be made over .005-worth of errors.) 

Finally: Giving away at-bats against bad pitchers. I'll say this for Brendan Ryan's horrific 2010 season: He hit bad pitchers in a slightly less horrific way. "Finesse"-type pitchers, labeled in Baseball-Reference's splits for being in the bottom third of the league in strikeouts plus walks, typically have a higher OPS against than their power and average counterparts. Ryan, predictably, didn't hit them very well—but god bless him he gave away fewer at-bats than against good pitchers, hitting .265/.311/.349.

Theriot was better against the huddled masses, hitting .296/.342/.342, but not relative to his other splits; I'm not used to trying to isolate focus, but does that mean he was giving away outs against bad pitchers, or that he was just saving a greater percentage of his outs to... to not give away to the good pitchers? 

Replacing Brendan Ryan with Ryan Theriot isn't going to ruin this team, although it does make it much less fun to watch. But it's nonsensical to frame the replacement around a need to refocus when it's not clear what effect that focus is supposed to have had. 

Finally, I would like to present my final and most complex argument for abolishing the postseason: 

"This team will sacrifice fielding range if it uses Theriot as the everyday shortstop. But the team sacrificed fielding range by replacing Edgar Renteria with Eckstein and won a World Series."

If my referendum passes, and the postseason is abolished, that paragraph will now read as follows, and you won't be inclined to find that xkcd comic about correlation and causation and Photoshop it: 

"This team will sacrifice fielding range if it uses Theriot as the everyday shortstop. But the team sacrificed fielding range by replacing Edgar Renteria with Eckstein and won 17 fewer games."