Middle Infield: A Work in Regress

A few days ago, the Seattle Mariners announced that Brendan Ryan would be their starting shortstop. Jack Wilson would move to second base. Ryan, of course, was the Cardinals shortstop last year. Wilson is a former Cards farmhand. He was traded 10 years ago for LOOGY Jason Christiansen. This was Walt Jocketty’s second worst trade as Cards GM, which says more about Jocketty’s success than Wilson’s talent.

Ryan is a very similar player to Wilson. They are both phenomenal fielders and poor hitters, though they show unexpected flashes of adequacy at the plate that can probably be explained by sample size and luck. It’s strange to see them paired up. They will combine to form a terrifying vacuum of offense in the lineup and on the field.

I want to poke fun at the Mariners middle infield. I want to call out the strange decision to let Jack Wilson and his clone get at-bats in the same game. I’m not sure I like their thinking that other infielders can play 2b even if they aren’t experienced there. It didn’t work terribly well with Chone Figgins, and Wilson hasn’t played there in the pros. But I can’t focus on any of these things in good faith because I look back at the Cardinals and they’re doing something even worse:

Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot.

Whenever I start to think about opening day, whenever I start to get excited that baseball is going to begin, I remember that our middle infield consists of Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot. They are memento mori. They remind me that I, too, will die.

Skip Schumaker is not a 2B.

To be honest, I thought the experiment was interesting. I was glad the Cardinals were willing to experiment with the defensive spectrum. I’m still glad the Cardinals are willing to experiment with the defensive spectrum. Lance Berkman in RF scares me, but it’s an exciting gamble.

But Schumaker is not a 2B. We tried. It was a worthy attempt. He’s a hard-nosed, athletic player who didn’t hit well enough to be a corner OF but played infield in college. I don’t blame the Cardinals or Tony La Russa for trying to make him a 2B. If it worked, it would have been great. But it didn’t. After two years, he’s still defensively one of the worst infielders in the majors. Total Zone numbers put him at -6 runs in the field last yar. UZR puts him at -15.4. Fielding Bible +/- had him at -9. He had 16 errors.

I’m wary about fielding statistics. Sometimes they disagree with each other. Sometimes they aren’t consistent year-to-year. But every single one agrees that Skip Schumaker is an absolutely horrible infielder. It’s a consensus, and no one who sees him play would argue against it.

Of course, if he hit well I’d be happy to ignore all those numbers. Defensive statistics aren’t as good as offensive statistics and it’s easy for a good hitter to thrive as a bad fielder, even at a position like 2B. Jeff Kent was a bad 2B and it was foolish to complain about his defensive issues. Dan Uggla is awful but his OPS is in the .800s.

Last season Schumaker had a line of .265/.328/.338. Those aren’t the numbers you want if you’re putting up with a terrible infielder. Those are the sort of numbers that are somewhat easily replaceable, even on the infield. Those are the sort of numbers that would get a guy released if he was an outfielder. And Skip Schumaker is an outfielder.

Schumaker, however, is only half the problem. The Cardinals are replacing the defensive wizardry of Brendan Ryan with the defensive shoddy workmanship of Ryan Theriot. Theriot comes to the Cardinals from the Cubs by way of the Dodgers.

Theriot hit .270/.321/.312 last year, which is to say he was a worse batter than Skip Schumaker. He’s a better fielder, though, and if he was going to be the 2B at least that would be something to feel good about. However, Theriot will be the starting SS for the Cardinals. He barely played at SS last year, but (to be fair) it wasn’t entirely his fault. He was moved off SS for 2B for Cubs rookie Starlin Castro.

Castro, however, wasn’t a terribly good SS. Total Zone has him at -12, UZR at -3. So it wasn’t like Theriot was supplanted by Ozzie Smith. Castro, however, hit well enough to stick and the Cubs never tried switching their positions. The Dodgers never even let Theriot get an inning at SS so the totality of the circumstances doesn’t suggest Theriot was an exceptional defensive SS. And when a starting position player has a .633 OPS, he should probably be exceptional.

That’s the Cardinals middle infield. Schumaker and Theriot. A slap hitting OF and 2B at 2B and SS respectively.

I want to look forward to the season. Sometimes it’s hard.

2 thoughts on “Middle Infield: A Work in Regress

  1. Welcome to the UCB. I’m pretty new myself, ironically both wrote our initial stories about defense and Brendan Ryan.

    This has been a concern of my own. It only works if both guys hit really well. I was a proponent of a Ryan @ short, Theriot @ second combination because Theriot is actually solid at second base.

    We start the year with three guys playing out of position and that scares me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s