Brendan Ryan’s Defense Is Too Good For Cards To Sacrifice


When I first heard the news that the Cardinals had acquired Ryan Theriot from the Dodgers in exchange for Blake Hawksworth, I must admit that I didn’t think much of the deal at the time. It certainly wasn’t a blockbuster trade by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have significant implications for both teams. Coming off a miserable, below .500 season, Los Angeles is looking to unload dead weight and rebuild for the future. St Louis, on the other hand, is looking to add the final pieces to the puzzle and make a run at the World Series. The question is: Does Ryan Theriot really get the Cards one step closer to achieving their ultimate goal?

Given Theriot’s age, history, and ability, I have a hard time seeing the 31-year-old having an outstanding impact with a new organization. Since solid 2007 and 2008 seasons, Theriot’s numbers have steadily declined for the most part. He stole 28 bases in 32 attempts in ’07, and he hit .307 with 73 walks in ’08. While he’s played in the same relative number of games each of the last few seasons, he has seen decreases in runs, extra base hits, RBIs, walks, steals, batting average, and OPS. Theriot, who was traded along with Ted Lilly from the Cubs to the Dodgers at the 2010 trade deadline, is coming off a mediocre-at-best season in which he hit an unimpressive .270 with two homers, 29 RBIs, and a .321 on base percentage. The fact that he gets on base with some consistency is encouraging, but Theriot is no better than average in any phase of the game.

With general manager John Mozeliak’s announcement that Ryan Theriot would be the team’s starting shortstop in 2011, Brendan Ryan is left as the odd man out. All indications are that the Redbirds will look to cut ties with Ryan and trade him elsewhere.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think the Cardinals are making a big mistake with this decision. Ryan is still somewhat young at the age of 28, and with just two full major league seasons under his belt, St. Louis is not giving him enough of a chance to prove his worth. Brendan Ryan has tremendous upside that should not be overlooked, and I believe he will continue to grow not only on the field, but off the field in the clubhouse as well.

There’s no denying the fact that Ryan had a horrific 2010 season with the bat, but his glove work was some of the best in all of baseball. Ryan hit .292 with an OBP of .344 in 2009, but he followed that up by posting a .223 batting average, a .279 OBP, and a .294 SLG % this year. He also had two home runs, 36 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases. Obviously, these numbers aren’t going to get the job done.

The big difference between Ryan and Theriot is their defensive abilities. Without question, Ryan has the advantage here. Fans in St. Louis have seen the incredible range and arm strength of Ryan save many runs over the past four seasons. Ryan brings so much talent to the infield, and he has been so exciting to watch each and every game. While Theriot is solid defensively, he just doesn’t have the range and run saving ability of Ryan. In 2010, Ryan led all major league shortstops with a UZR of 11.5 and a Plus/Minus of +31. He was involved in 102 double plays, and, in my opinion, he deserved a Gold Glove Award. Theriot has a career UZR of 3.4, and his career fielding percentage is .976 (Ryan’s is .979). Theriot also has a 4.06 range factor as a shortstop, while Ryan has a 5.13 RF.

One of the main reasons that the front office of the Cards decided to make this moves was because of attitude. Ryan Theriot definitely brings a mental toughness and a winning attitude to the organization, and Brendan Ryan has had some attitude problems with manager Tony La Russa in the past. Not to mention, Theriot has some valuable experience in the NL Central and his flexibility to play both middle infield positions is a plus. I understand that the Cards were searching for their signature “misfit” player in pursuing Theriot, but benching Brendan Ryan is not the way to go. I just don’t think it makes sense to sacrifice such high quality defense for attitude and slightly (If at all) better offense. Ryan will only get better at this point in his career, and he costs the organization much less money than Theriot. The Redbirds already have experienced veterans in Pujols, Holliday, and Carpenter, and as a team, they had the ninth best batting average in the MLB in 2010. With that in mind, Ryan’s offense and attitude don’t look so crucial anymore.

Finally, Wins Above Replacement is a great way of measuring a players overall value to his team, taking both offense and defense into account. So far in his career, Ryan edges Theriot with 8.5 WAR against 8.4 WAR. The margin may be slight, but it proves that the Cards aren’t actually gaining much by putting Theriot out there instead of Ryan. I can live with pedestrian offensive numbers as long as they come with excellence and consistency on defense, and I’m sure the Cards pitching staff is feeling the same way.

The one positive thing about Theriot starting at shortstop is that the Cardinals may still be looking into signing Orlando Hudson to replace Skip Schumaker at second base. However, based on what John Mozeliak has said, it looks like the middle infield will stay as is for the start of the 2011 season. For me, the ideal situation would be to keep Ryan at shortstop and put Theriot at second to replace Schumaker. As the old saying goes, defense wins championships, and the Cardinals are losing a whole lot of it. It will surely be interesting to see how this whole situation plays out. Maybe I will be proven wrong. Maybe Theriot does for the Cardinals what Juan Uribe did for the Giants.