Bad Idea of the Week: Ryan Theriot Leading Off

By dannysisto

The former LSU Tiger Ryan Theriot is many things. He is presently the starting shortstop of the Chicago Cubs. He owns a pretty large following of female Cubs fans who enjoy telling everyone just how much they love him. Oh yeah, and he would be a horrible option to lead-off in 2010.

At 30 years old, Ryan has found a full-time gig at the Major League level. He has made very large strides in improving his game defensively since his rookie season, but his offensive game has been the definition of inconsistency. After winning the starting shortstop position from Cesar Izturis, Theriot finished the 2007 season with very sub-par results, hitting .266 with a .326 on-base percentage.

Many fans were frustrated that he was just handed the starting spot in 2008 after such a poor showing in the season previous, but Theriot came out swinging a hot bat all year. Ryan wound up with a stellar .387 on-base percentage and an acceptable .746 OPS. All things considered, he put up an above average season for a shortstop. When you factor in his league minimum contract at the time, he added very cheap production to the team.

Although he enjoyed a nice enough 2008 season, most analysts acknowledged the large amount of luck that aided his ’08 campaign, and they expected a noticeable drop-off in the following year. After Theriot underwent a short-lived streak of power early in 2009, he apparently changed up his approach at the plate afterward. What followed was an abysmal second-half which saw him post an ugly .634 OPS after the All Star break. Falling apart in the second half of the year is a trend that Theriot has undergone his entire career.

This all brings us to the main point. Some sportswriters and Cub fans have been penciling Theriot in at the top-of-the-order in projected batting orders for 2010. What these people aren’t realizing is just how awful Theriot is when he’s facing right-handed pitching. As a rule of thumb, a team will face a right-handed starter roughly 75-80% of the time. With that in mind, you have to take into account that of all the projected starters for the Cubs in 2010, Theriot is the very worst against righties. Dead last.

Over the past 3 seasons, Ryan owns a very sub-par .688 OPS against right-handed pitching. For those who don’t fully comprehend OPS, I’ll sum it up: Ryan Theriot is the worst starting offensive player on the team when the Cubs are up against a right-handed pitcher (or 80% of the time)…and some people want to lead-off with him. That means that some people want to give the worst offensive player on the team the most at-bats, which is nothing short of mind-numbing.

*Fun Fact* Of all the projected starters on the Cubs, Theriot also sees the least pitches per plate appearance at 3.68.

To add onto his woes at the plate, some forget just how bad of a base-runner “The Riot” has been over the past 2 seasons. Since 2008, he has stolen 43 bases, while getting caught 23 times. That is a only 65% effective, which is actually draining even more value from his play.

Kosuke Fukudome is far and away the best option to lead-off for the Cubs. Kosuke is very solid offensive player against righties; The man put up a .387 on-base percentage against them in 2009. With the third and fourth spot in the lineup firmly held by Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, anyone in the lineup would remain a much better option to fit into the 2-spot. With that in mind, the only spot in the lineup Theriot fits into is the 7th or 8th hole. Anything higher is very simply costing the Cubs runs and wins.

Just because someone is short and scrappy with above average speed does not mean they should be at the top of the order. This whole mentality needs to be changed.

Basically, I don’t care if Piniella wants leads off with Theriot against lefties; Ryan is a quality bat against left-handed pitching. Yet if he even sniffs the top of the order against right-handed pitching in 2010, well, it’s obviously a very bad idea.

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