Many reports seem to indicate that Tony LaRussa has won some sort of turf war over the front office that had been leaning towards using statistical analysis over LaRussa's tendency to lean on "gamers." The ultimate test of LaRussa's supposed victory will be how Ryan Theriot will perform in 2011. LaRussa has given shortstop to Theriot for better or for worse. Theriot is a huge risk.
Theriot is not a risk concerning his effort or his "games-man-ship." He will play every day and give you maximum effort. But he is sort of like Tom Petty to Bob Dylan. He's a bottom tier player in Major League Baseball. Only three other batters that qualified for the batting title had less batting value than Theriot last year. And sure, Brendan Ryan might have been one of them. But Theriot is not near the same class of defensive player that Ryan is and was for the Cardinals.
And it isn't just the much-maligned fielding stats that show he is a less than adequate fielder. Scouting reports show that he has a much-less than average arm, less than average jump on the ball and instincts and less than average accuracy on his throws. With a double-play tandem of Skip Schumaker and with Freese at third (best case scenario) and Holliday and Berkman in the outfield, you are talking about the potential for an all time brutal defense.
But unlike Berkman, Freese and Holliday, you can't get excited about any offensive possibilities with Ryan Theriot. He has shown patience at the plate in the past, but that evaporated last year. He hits less extra base hits than Ichiro and he is only successful on 68% of his steal attempts. Bill James is optimistic that Theriot will have a better year than last year. Okay, that's a good thing. But even better than last year won't make Theriot an adequate offensive player. Brendan Ryan has much more of an upside, but apparently, he wore out his welcome in St. Louis. Theriot finished at dead zero in WAR last year. And that's pretty tough to do considering the bonus points his fielding position gives him. Ryan had his worst season ever and still finished with a WAR of 0.9. And this Fan would rather have little WAR with great fielding than no WAR with lousy fielding.
The Cardinals live and die with Pujols, Holliday and pitching. The pitchers are great but are not power pitchers. They rely on people catching the weakly hit balls they induce. Weaken your defense and you weaken your pitching. The Cardinals have made a major gamble this year to do things LaRussa's way. 2011 will either show us another genius season from a manager that has pulled it off before, or it will show us a major miscalculation perhaps based on no calculations (if you get the Fan's drift). Ryan Theriot might be the little pepper pot LaRussa likes, but pepper gives a lot of people heartburn.
**UPDATE** Things get better and better! Now the Cardinals have added Nick Punto, who is basically Brendan Ryan but ten years older. Punto is also known as a "gamer."