Perhaps a post that starts with such a negative heading is unsporting for a Friday. And perhaps this isn't the right time to bash a team that is already taking a lot of heat for a move it made this week during this year's version of the trade deadline. And just as likely, it's might be far too premature to be giving away season awards when there are more than 55 games to play this season. But the monumental blunder of the year has to go to the St. Louis Cardinals for making Ryan Theriot their every day shortstop for 2011. This writer panned the deal when it was first announced and at the risk of sounding puffed up, this Fan told you so.
Earlier in the year, Ryan Theriot was at least getting on base and batting lead off. By the end of May, Theriot was batting .316 with an on base percentage of .369. Cardinal fans used to the defensive skills of Brendan Ryan could at least say to themselves, "Well, at least the guy can hit." But he can't. His BABIP during those early times was .349. It was in the words of Bugs Bunny, a "miragee." And perhaps the name of Brendan Ryan should come up in this conversation since Tony LaRussa is coming under heavy fire for the Rasmus situation. Brendan Ryan was another of those players who came under LaRussa's shaggy eyebrows of scorn.
The Cardinals made a huge mistake essentially swapping Ryan for Ryan Theriot. Or, to state it as it should be stated, it was a monumental blunder. Brendan Ryan runs the bases well and he's an elite fielding shortstop. Any Cardinal fan can tell you that last year's Cardinal shortstop would have a lapse or two. But last year's shortstop also had 430 assists for a pitching staff that was built to put the ball in play. Last year's Cardinal shortstop is having a good year in Seattle. His season has been the reverse of Theriot. Brendan Ryan started slowly but has come on offensively and though he's still in below league average with his batting, he's still a star fielder.
Fangraphs gives Ryan Theriot a -10.4 rating in the field this season (UZR). Only Yuniesky Betancourt of the Brewers is rated worse. That site's overall leader board for WAR lists Betancourt as the worst shortstop in baseball and Theriot as the next to worse. Meanwhile, their former shortstop is rated as the eleventh best shortstop and the fifth best in fielding.
It seems cruel to pick on Ryan Theriot to this degree. It's not his fault really. He's just a guy trying his hardest to play the sport he loves and have as long a career he can have. The fault here really is the plan that put this in place to begin with. How can you ask a pitching staff to pitch to contact (low walks are stressed in St. Louis), and then put in place a plan that includes Ryan Theriot at short and Skip Schumaker at second? If the Cardinals had done their homework, they should have known that Theriot has no arm to back his range.
But it's not just Theriot's fielding that is a problem (though that is definitely the worst part of it), he's not great as a batter either. He's had two decent seasons in his seven year career. He has an 82 career OPS+. His 8.1 career walk percentage is deceiving as it has come down in recent years. Last year, it was 6.4 percent after posting a 7.5 percent the year before. This year is his all time worse at 5.5 percent. That's a three year downward trend. His power is non-existent, but you don't expect that from a shortstop usually.
To complete an unholy triad of statistics, Fangraphs rates Theriot in negative numbers in batting, fielding and base running. And so, it seems that this writer's reservations about this move were warranted. Theriot has been a killer.
Again, don't blame Ryan Theriot. He's doing the best he can with his ability. It's not Ryan Theriot's fault. This was poor decision making by the Cardinals as an organization and it perhaps all starts with the chutzpah of their manager. And though there may be other worthy contenders, the installation of Theriot as the Cardinals' full time shortstop for 2011 is sure to rank as the biggest organizational blunder of 2011.