Player spotlight: Ryan Theriot

I know Ryan Theriot is sort of a random guy to spotlight, but I realized Sunday while writing the National League Waiver Wire that there is a lot to be said about Theriot. Perhaps not great as a real-life baseball player, he is a pretty good fantasy player.

The real reason I like Theriot, though, is because he understands his skills and his limitations and he uses the skills he does possess optimally. Whether this is a concentrated effort can be argued, but it makes for an interesting player analysis.

Power
YEAR	AGE	LEVEL	LEAGUE	AB	HR	AB/HR	AB/XBH	FB%
2004	24	A+	FSL	330	1	330	18	---
2005	25	AA	SL	448	1	448	14	---
2006	26	AAA	PCL	280	0	INF	18	---
2006	26	MLB	MLB	134	3	45	8	24%
2007	27	MLB	MLB	537	3	179	15	31%
2008	28	MLB	MLB	89	1	89	11	24%

As you probably knew before viewing this table, Theriot doesn’t have much power. He barely has any. The only reason those AB/XBH figures look somewhat decent is because his speed allows him to get extra doubles and triples. Notice that final column, though. Theriot doesn’t have much raw power, and he doesn’t try to force it by hitting a lot of fly balls.

Contact hitting
YEAR	AGE	LEVEL	LEAGUE	AB	CT	BABIP	LD%	GB%	BB%
2004	24	A+	FSL	330	87%	0.311	---	---	13%
2005	25	AA	SL	448	92%	0.330	---	---	9%
2006	26	AAA	PCL	280	88%	0.346	---	---	9%
2006	26	MLB	MLB	134	87%	0.363	27%	50%	11%
2007	27	MLB	MLB	537	91%	0.289	21%	49%	8%
2008	28	MLB	MLB	89	88%	0.364	28%	48%	11%

While Theriot lacks power, his contact rates are always very good and he has a very good history of BABIPs. He manages to keep them good because he doesn’t try to be something he isn’t.

He isn’t a power hitter, so he hits very few fly balls. Instead, he hits a lot of line drives—the most likely batted ball type to fall for a hit—and ground balls. Ground balls are more likely than fly balls to become hits to begin with, and Theriot can use his speed to beat out even more of them.

Stolen Bases
YEAR	AGE	LEVEL	LEAGUE	AB	SBA	SBO%	SBA%	SB%
2004	24	A+	FSL	330	24	0.323	20%	54%
2005	25	AA	Sou	448	34	0.302	23%	71%
2006	26	AAA	PCL	280	17	0.317	17%	82%
2006	26	MLB	MLB	134	15	0.301	33%	87%
2007	27	MLB	MLB	537	32	0.268	20%	88%
2008	28	MLB	MLB	89	11	0.317	34%	55%

For fantasy purposes, Theriot derives a lot of value from his stolen bases. He was successful at a good clip in 2006 and 2007 at Triple-A and in the majors and has constantly attempted them at a high rate. So far this year, though, his success rate is at an abysmal 55 percent. This not only poses the problem of him actually getting caught (and therefore not getting a steal for his fantasy owners), but the more he gets caught, the more likely it becomes he will not be allowed to run as much.

While this is a concern, I’m not too worried. First, his current 34 percent attempt percentage is the highest of his career at any level. It’s possible all he’ll need to do is be more selective and the success rate will go back up. It’s also possible this is just a sample size issue.

Furthermore, his manager is Lou Piniella. If we look at his page in the 2008 Bill James Handbook, we see that Piniella’s teams led the league in stolen base attempts in both 2001 and 2002, and in 2005, actually attempted more than in 2002. Last year, his Cubs were in the bottom-half of the league, but from 1998 to 2005 he always seemed to let his guys run, so I don’t think we should be too concerned about him holding Theriot back.

I do think Theriot’s attempt percentage will drop—as it probably should—and Theriot will be fine.

Expectations

Given 600 plate appearances, a 9 percent walk rate, an 89 percent contact rate, a .310 BABIP, a 4 percent HR/FB ratio, and a 25 percent fly ball rate (I know, a lot of components), Ryan Theriot would hit .282. He would also manage to hit five home runs, although that could easily be just two with a lower HR/FB.

Given the prior assumptions, a 25 percent stolen base attempt rate, and an 85 percent success rate, Theriot would steal 35 bases.

Not bad at all. Factor in that he is batting second—ahead of Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome—with an above-average walk rate and good speed, and he should score plenty of runs.

He also has a little bit of upside. If he continues hitting this many line drives and his BABIP stays above .330 or so the entire year (it has in the past), the batting average would go above .300. Also, if he keeps attempting steals at this rate and starts succeeding at his old rate, he could approach 50 steals.

Concluding thoughts

Overall, Theriot has limitations, but he maximizes the skills that he has. He focuses on his contact hitting, patience and speed, which makes him a pretty valuable fantasy player. As I said on Sunday, Theriot should be owned in 10-team mixed leagues and all NL-only leagues.

If you have any questions, feel free to let me know.

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