Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Assuming the Position 2008 - Shortstop
2007-11-07 09:09
by Derek Smart

Since 2003, shortstop has been, if not an Achilles' Heel for the Cubs, at the very least it's been, shall we say, Odysseus' Oblique?...Nestor's Navel?...Hector's Haemorrhoid? Point is, it's a position that's been sorely lacking in usefulness for the last several years. Long gone are the days when you can expect to put a slick glove man in the six hole and punt offense altogether. In order to field a truly fearsome squad, one that has a chance to dominate rather than merely get by, it's necessary to put players all over the field who can make positive offensive contributions, if not when viewed in a vaccum, at least relative to the rest of the league at their position.

In recent years the Cubs have failed even that modest goal, as the table below describes (all ranks are from among the players on each team who played the most defensive innings at shortstop for their respective clubs).

MLVr Rank NL
Ryan Theriot
Ronny Cedeno
Neifi Perez
Ramon Martinez
Alex Gonzalez
Alex Gonzalez

The first thing that jumps out at me, that leaps in the air, pirouetting, spitting blue fire while singing La Marseillaise in the voice of Ronan Tynan, is the simple fact that despite all his big, positive energy, despite all the spark and life he can bring to a game, in 2007 Ryan Theriot was the offensive inferior of - oh, God, this is going to hurt - the 2005 version of the very symbol of the team's recent shortstop struggles, Neifi! himself.

Now, I realize that I'm using one of Neifi!'s finest seasons in the comparison (Seriously. Look it up.), and that Theriot is still kinda young, but the sad truth is he's not so young that we should expect growth. Rather, as he moves into his age 28 season in 2008, it's more reasonable to foresee something like the status quo, and as you can see above, that's simply not good enough. It might also be something of a reach. Let's take a quick peek at Theriot's monthly splits from last year.


So, tell me, is one of these things not like the others? Take that clearly aberrant July out of the picture, and you're left with .250/.302/.319 for his remaining 490 trips to the dish. That's not just unhealthy, that's barely breathing. It is, in fact, a level of production that the rest of the Cubs lineup is not built to sustain - very few lineups are - but if there's a sizeable contribution from the defensive end of the spectrum, then it's possible some of this horror can be absorbed.

OOZ/9 Innings
OOZ/9 Innings NL Rank

Quick explanation: I've got RATE2, which normalizes BP's RATE statistic for league difficulty, etc. For that one, 100 is average, and anything above or below it is the number of runs lost or gained on average through his defensive contribution over 100 games. In Theriot's case, he's at a 97, so for every 100 games he plays at shortstop, he costs the team 3 runs versus an average defender, or approximately 1/3 of a win. RZR is Revised Zone Rating, which I'll allow the link to more thoroughly explain, and OOZ is the number of balls the defender made plays on that were out of his zone (the same zone for RZR, by the way). What's that? Get to the point? Fine, then.

Ryan Theriot is a sub-standard defensive shortstop, both when compared with a theoretical average, and when compared to the other players in his league. He does alright getting to balls in his prescribed area, but he doesn't work well outside that range, and that's the real damning point. He's dead last among 2007 NL starting shortstops in the total number of balls he got outs on outside his zone, and next to last in those plays per 9 innings. Observationally, he simply lacks the combination of range and arm strength that allows the better defenders in the league to make those extra plays - the plays that make the difference between those who are placeholders, and those who own the place.

So, not only is Theriot a liability with the bat, but he fails to make up for it with his glove. He clearly needs to be replaced as a starter, but then again, might the available alternatives be worse?

Internal Options

Ryan Theriot - If what's above hasn't convinced you that, despite the utility and spirit of "The Riot", he's simply not an everyday player, then there's precious little I can do to sway you. He'll be on the team next year, and he'll certainly play some short, but he should also play second, and third, and if all goes well, only accumulate about 250 plate appearances in the process. As a judiciously utilized super-sub, he's quite useful, but start him daily, and you're simply creating a lineup hole that needn't be there.

Ronny Cedeno - So, what are we supposed to believe? The .357/.413/.528 line he's posted in 532 career Iowa at bats, or the .247/.277/.349 line that tells the tale of his 688 Major League at bats? I'll admit I think there's a sliver of possibility that Cedeno could eventually evolve into a useful Major League shortstop, but I've seen enough of the despair surrounding that fragment of hope to never want to go on that pipe-dream salvage dive again. Besides, if a championship's a log cabin, you don't build it by grabbing 25 toothpicks, adding water, and hoping they grow into big, strong timbers. You just chop down some massive trees and cut out the middle man.

Are roomfuls of tortured analogies turning your home into the literary equivalent of a medieval dungeon? Well, we here at Cub Town can be the Pied Piper to your metaphorical rats. Simply dump your horrific homologies right here in the comments, and you too can grasp the bliss of the belletrist.  Don't delay, act today!

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Trade Market

Miguel Tejada - Here he is, one of those white whale types. Having missed the boat when he was actually available on the market, his name has been mentioned all over the place in connection with the Cubs over the last couple years, with nothing concrete really coming of it beyond a rumored offer of Mark Prior. The question at this point is less about who among the Cubs stash of players can get this deal done, and more, is this deal even worth doing anymore?

He's seen a significant and steady decrease in his power numbers during his first four years in Baltimore, his ISO going from a robust .223 in 2004, and settling in at .146 last year, which, while still healthy for a shortstop, is well below the superstar production level one expects from a player of his stature. He did break his wrist during the season, but his ISO before the injury was actually worse at .116, and his season numbers were somewhat saved by a post-injury monster August in which he hit .300/.374/.609 with 10 homers, so I don't think we can point to his wrist as a factor. He quite simply seems to be getting older.

His defense also appears to be on the slide, with the Orioles making noises at the end of the year about the possibility of shifting him to third to account for his diminished range afield. Statistically, BP has his RATE2 at 88 last season, which is easily his worst full season defensively to date. Add to that equation the $30M left on his deal ($13M in each of the next two years, with $2M in signing bonus payouts in 2010-11, a fact I would never have dug up were it not for the ridiculously fabulous Cot's Baseball Contracts), and you're looking at a more risky proposition than you may have originally thought.

There's the possibility that some of the performance issues on both sides of the ball can be accounted for by malaise, what with the team around him being so clearly unable to compete, but that seems all too convenient. Would Tejada be an improvement over the current situation? Sure, particularly if he could inch a bit closer to average with the glove. I'm not sure he's worth the price in talent and treasure to bring him on board, but then again, he looks like the most complete package available.

Khalil Greene - This idea makes me wince for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the rumored chit in the deal, one Felix Pie. It seems a steep price to pay for a player who fails to meet any of your needs (not that Pie does, but that's another post). Despite last year's results, this is a club that shouldn't have power issues, yet the only offensive asset Greene brings to the table is that very same pop and zing (and perhaps a soupçon of zaz).

He also has a career OBP of .312 - a number he significantly underperformed last season, and that's the sticking point, isn't it? What we have in Greene is a slightly more powerful version of Alex S. Gonzalez, who happens to negate that brute force advantage with his less-than-impressive glove-work (BP has his career RATE2 at 94, a figure he's been better than only once, in 2006).

Get on base at even a .330-.340 pace, and we'd have something to talk about, but Greene turned 28 a few weeks ago, is about to get expensive (he's in his second arb-eligible year), and has posted sub-.300 OBPs in two of the last three seasons. He's not what this club needs.

Julio Lugo - I've not actually seen his name mentioned anywhere, but I could envision a scenario (unlikely thought it may be) where the Red Sox go on a completely insane post-championship spending binge, re-signing Mike Lowell and bringing Alex Rodriguez on board to play shortstop. That would create a need to get rid of Lugo, and based on his performance last year (.237/.294/.349, with sub-par defense), I'd imagine he could be had for very little talent, with some money coming over to boot.

That said, his career line is still only .271/.333/.395, so any deal would have to be very much on the cheap, thus allowing the club to easily Cesar! him, should his performance merit such a thing. The likelihood of him falling on his face would be high enough, though, that doing this would be inadvisable, and since the necessary scenario is extremely unlikely, I don't think it truly concerns us.

Free Agents

Alex Rodriguez - "This is not the 'droid you're looking for." - Jim Hendry

Kaz Matsui - My first thought here was that this didn't seem like a half bad idea. He was a decent enough shortstop for the Mets in 2004 - it is, after all, the position he'd played all his career to that point - and he looked to have something of renaissance in Colorado, posting a .288/.342/.405 line for the season which I would gladly take from the six hole.

My second thought was that I should look at his home/road splits, and that's where the trouble began. All those theoretical gains just melt away to the tune of .249/.304/.333 when he's removed from Denver's Great Space Coaster. It makes me think his career line of .272/.325/.387 might actually be his upside at this point, and despite my opening statements, I'd rather pay the minimum for a guy like Theriot than pay a few million for that.

David Eckstein - He has no power, and like so many of these other folks we're looking at, is almost entirely reliant on his batting average to keep his OBP at acceptable levels. That said, he'd be a reasonable enough option if he wasn't going to turn 33, and hadn't also gone from being a decent shortstop, to being an sizable liability with the glove. He's fallen fast, though, and at this point in his career, no one should really look at him unless he's willing to take a one or two year deal.

Neifi! Perez - Oh, just stop it.


It may be revealing too much about how unfortunately long the process of writing this has been to declare that when I first began sketching out this piece, the most tantalizing option on the market was Edgar Renteria, who could both be had, and be had without coughing up top tier talent. The Tigers jumped on it, though, so now we're left with what remains, which is a bucketful of flawed options, none of which are particularly palatable.

I'll come right out and say that, short of the fantasyland signing of this year's big fish, there's no free agent option I can see that presents enough of an upgrade to warrant spending extra money. There are other areas where that cash can be funneled more effectively. On the trade side, I only see Tejada as enough of a plus to justify a deal, and even that comes with considerable risk.

Here's where I'm at: if acquiring Tejada does not financially preclude upgrades in right field or the back of the rotation, and does not eviscerate the farm, I think it's worth the risk for a shot at the upside. Other than that, I don't see a reasonable option to supplant Theriot, beyond giving Cedeno another look, and if that doesn't depress you, you're not paying attention.

2007-11-07 09:41:05
1.   kinbote
assuming ned colletti is at least listening to offers for rafael furcal [we have a young ss in the wings], what would the cubs be willing to offer?
2007-11-07 10:07:40
2.   Derek Smart
Honestly, Furcal hadn't crossed my mind, but based on the way the Dodgers have seemed to want to ease their young'uns into regular service, I'd doubt he'd come available anyway. I'll bite, though.

Since he's only got a year left on his deal, I wouldn't want to cough up a ton, and truth be told, I think the Dodgers can beat any offer the Cubs would make with their own internal options, so I'm not sure what we could give that would be of interest, beyond salary relief, which I don't think the Dodgers need, either. I'd also be concerned about his health, which is no small thing, and would definitely drive his price down in my mind. I think all we really have to give is pitching and Felix Pie, anyway, and you can't have Pie. I'd imagine one of the Sean Marshall/Gallagher variety of pitchers could be offered up, with the Cubs taking the full salary hit. Maybe another high risk/upside guy from the low minors for sweetener (sorry, I don't have a name off the top of my head). I don't know if that's fair, but that's the sort of thing I'd expect to be talked about, but honestly, I just don't see a fit between the clubs.

2007-11-07 10:43:27
3.   kinbote
fair enough. i only see us trading furcal if we have something big [a-rod] already lined up. thanks for your response.
2007-11-07 11:17:24
4.   Tom
If The Riot is this teams cross to bear, then so be it. It's an odd situation, but Theriot's not very good and we can't find a suitable replacement for him.

Clearly, you'd like to do better, but if we can pencil in this season for next year, I don't think we'd be pulling our hair out. A Gonz was only slightly better in the Bartman-scarred season.

The thing I want to know is what happened to JJ. What made Jock go from 27 HRs to 5.

2007-11-07 17:24:01
5.   Sandus
I agree with everything you say except two points.

1) Khalil Greene's defense is simply not as bad as that statistic would have you believe (in fact, I did a triple take just to make sure I read it correctly). I consider Greene one of the better defensive shortstops in the NL, maybe 4th or 5th in the league. His defense is also improving, owing to the fact that 2007 was the first season that he didn't have an injury (yes, I'm aware that's also a negative). His offense is terrible and I'm not saying that I want him, but of the options you've listed not named Rodriguez, he's the best one out there.

2) Felix Pie should not be untouchable. Pie currently has 3 things to offer the Cubs: lots of speed, great center field defense, and power potential. At present, his only value to the team is that of defensive replacement or pinch runner, and those two things will not fill the holes in a mediocre roster. Pie is by no means a sure thing, but his potential gives him value as a trade piece. Now is the perfect time to trade him, when his value is maximized and several teams are looking to jettison high priced talent in favor of young players to rebuild their organizations. Not only am I saying that Pie is not untouchable, but I actually believe that he SHOULD be traded this offseason if this team sees itself contending next year.

2007-11-07 18:22:01
6.   Derek Smart
5 I'm not going to strenuously argue with you on point one. The combination of RZR and OOZ put him pretty squarely in the middle of the pack in the NL, so he's likely not terrible, and I'm more than willing to believe that these stats are limited enough that he may be quite good. I just took a look at what Probabalistic Model of Range thought of him last year, and it liked him quite a bit, so your point's definitely got merit.

Number two, though, I want to set the record straight on. I've never said Pie should be untouchable, and I didn't mean to imply that here. I just said Pie isn't the guy you use to get Khalil Greene, because as far as I'm concerned, you've just exchanged guys with the same basic skillsets, and that's not useful in the end. Use him to bring a guy who can help make this team a more consistently viable offensive force (read: make fewer outs), and I'm in.

2007-11-08 04:51:11
7.   bundria
First of all, it's Greene .. with an "E". So get it right.

Secondly .. Khalil is arguably one of the best defensive shortstops in the league. His range is ridiculous. He makes the most difficult plays look routine. And as far as offense is concerned .. he may not have the highest batting average, but he's a clutch hitter. Look at how many of his hits are for extra bases & look at how many RBI's he has compared to his hits. He's a baller. That's all. :)

As the little boy sitting behind me at a Clemson baseball game once said, "Go Khalil Gweene!!" ;)

2007-11-08 06:09:08
8.   Derek Smart
7 Fixed.
2007-11-08 07:50:05
9.   Derek Smart
Just to throw another wrench in the works, Pinto just posted PMR for shortstops in 2007, and it likes Greene considerably less than it did last year. This time around, he's slightly below average, and essentially equivalent to both Theriot and Hanley Ramirez, which I honestly don't buy into (Greene is better than both, methinks). I don't know what this really means, but since there's what passes for a comment firestorm around here about my Greene remarks, thought I'd add a little fuel for kicks.
2007-11-09 15:10:40
10.   hernan
speaking of Pie, currently playing for Tigres de Licey (Dominican Winter League), after 10 games and 33 at-bats:

.212 AVG
.257 OBP
4 SB's
2 walks, 9 strikeouts
7 hits (4 singles, 3 doubles)

ouch! if anything, he's killing his trade value.

as far as the shortstop debate, I think Theriot is a much better fit in the #8 hole, mainly because he gives you a tough at-bat, has a good eye and is a solid baserunner.

He should be capable of drawing a few more walks as they pitch around him to get to the pitcher, setting up more innings with Soriano leading off.

Defensively he seemed to make every play, hanging tough on double-plays... your typical "better than his numbers", "does the little things" kind of guy. Plus, he really didn't prepare for a full season at shortstop. He can only improve defensively.

2008 starting lineup:
1. soriano
2. jones
3. d-lee
4. ramirez
5. fukudome
6. derosa/fontenot
7. soto
8. theriot

youtube has a bunch of clips on Fukudome, check them out. he can be a Hideki Matsui clone, although Wikipedia has a painful comment about Fukudome comparing to Akinori Iwamura, he of the .770 OPS and 1K/4.3 ABs last year (D-Rays).

and yes, I miss baseball.

2007-11-09 23:48:24
11.   Sandus
10 Fukudome doesn't have nearly the power that Matsui has. They didn't call him Gojira for nothing.

(I still want Fukudome in right field next season.)

2007-11-10 08:05:49
12.   John Hill
Concerning Khalil Greene, his career line outside of PETCO Park is a very interesting .276/.330/.503 with a .299 average on balls in play. Given PETCO's reputation as the most pitcher friendly ballpark in all of baseball, and in particular death to right handed hitters, I don't see why Greene's career .230/.292/.377 with a .266 average on balls in play line at PETCO should play so heavily in your analysis of his offense. It's every bit as important to bear Greene's home hitting environment in mind as it is Kaz Matsui's this last year, perhaps more so as the trend is that much better established. That combined with Greene's defensive reputation as certainly no worse than average, if not a whole lot better, plus the fact he's 28, still two years from free agency and relatively well-priced, is why he ought to be by far the most attractive of the options you've listed there. It's also why the Padres would be asking for Felix Pie, if he's even available at all - I've heard San Diego is interested in signing him to a contract extension, which would make perfect sense given both his value and their complete dearth of other options at the shortstop position.

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