On-Base Perception

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Ryan Theriot could help 'short'-handed Yankees

San Francisco Giants designated hitter Ryan Theriot reacts

San Francisco Giants designated hitter Ryan Theriot reacts after scoring on an RBI single by Marco Scutaro during the10th inning of Game 4 of the World Series. (Oct. 28, 2012) (Credit: AP)

Derek Jeter has a cranky ankle, Eduardo Nunez can't field, Jayson Nix can't hit and Ryan Theriot can't find a job. And if the Yankees ever wised up and gave Theriot a ring on the phone, it could help the team add a ring to their fingers at the end of the season.

Theriot has been a member of back-to-back World Series champions, first with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 and then with the San Francisco Giants in 2012. Theriot started at designated hitter for the Giants (an odd choice for a light-hitting middle infielder) during the decisive Game 4, singling to lead off the top of the 10th inning and scoring the go-ahead – and series-winning run – on a Marco Scutaro single later in the inning.

Theriot has played games at shortstop, second base, third base, left field and right field during an eight-year career, and while he'll never be mistaken for a Hall of Famer, Theriot has a respectable .281 lifetime average and .341 on-base percentage. He's posted a batting average lower than .266 just once – during a nine-game cup of coffee with the Cubs in 2005. A starter from 2007-2009 with Chicago, Theriot has transitioned to a role player position during the past three seasons. He also has one of the cooler nicknames in MLB – a separation of his last name yields “The Riot.”

And yet steady, productive, versatile Ryan “The Riot” Theriot hasn't hooked on with a club this offseason.

Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Theriot, 33, is considering a new career path, possibly becoming an agent. His continued availability is unlikely to have to do with salary demands: Theriot hasn't earned more than $3.3 million during any season of his career, and made only $1.25 million in 2012, according to baseball-reference.com.

If Theriot does hang up his cleats this season it would be a shame, especially considering that both New York teams could use him.

The Mets, shallow in infield depth and veteran presence, could certainly benefit from having him around. But for a team not expected to contend, adding a player like Theriot is more luxury than necessity.

The Yankees, however, would greatly strengthen a particularly weak bench by signing the veteran.

Currently Nunez (who already has two errors this spring to go along with a .216 average) and non-roster invitee Nix (who has three errors and a .189 average) are likely to compete for regular season at-bats off the bench and, perhaps, at third base and shortstop given the team's injury woes. Are either a better option than Theriot?

Nunez has a live bat that's projected to improve, but his .701 career OPS isn't terribly impressive and his defensive instincts are often nauseating - a view shared by sight and stats alike. Nix is a normally steady defender with a bit of pop, but he has a career .214 average. No one is worried when Nix steps to the plate.

And just because Theriot doesn't launch extra-base hits doesn't make him worthless. Once you demonstrate a skill, you own it, and Theriot has already showed good contact skills and the ability to consistently hit for a steady average.

But throw the production out the press box window for a moment and look at the process last season, when Theriot was worth 0.0 WAR – literally replacement level – and trailed Nix (0.4 WAR) and Nunez (0.5 WAR) according to fangraphs.com's calculations.

-- Theriot still saw 3.77 pitches per plate appearance, that would be more than MVP calibre players like Miguel Cabrera (3.76) and Ryan Braun (3.74). It was also more than Nix (3.76) and Nunez (3.74).
Theriot had a 34 percent ball in play percentage, the same as Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols. Nunez (32) and Nix (27) trailed Theriot.

-- Theriot struck out just 12.2 percent of the time. That's a better rate than David Ortiz (13.3) and Robinson Cano (13.8). Nix whiffed 26.2 percent of the time while Nunez slightly bested Theriot with a 12 percent strikeout rate.

-- All three hitters posted similar walk rates: Nunez (6.0), Theriot (6.3), Nix (6.9).

-- Theriot's 25.1 line drive percentage was far superior to Nunez (16.5) and Nix (12.3).

-- Theriot has a career -1.7 UZR/150 at shortstop and -0.5 UZR/150 at second base, the two positions he's played the most. UZR/150 is an advanced stat that measures a player's ability to get to balls hit in his zone. Nunez has a -25.8 UZR/150 at shortstop, -29.6 UZR/150 at third base and -7.8 UZR/150 at second base. Nix has posted a UZR/150 of 10.9 at second base, -1.1 at third base and -33.0 at shortstop.

When the Yankees last won the World Series in 2009, they did so with the help of an incredibly productive bench. Their substitutes hit .313 with an .870 OPS and even their pinch hitters posted a respectable .769 OPS. The 2010 subs fell to a .606 OPS and .500 OPS pinch-hitting. In 2011, substitutes posted a .700 OPS and pinch-hitters had just a .592 OPS. Last season was more of the same, with the team's subs producing a .723 OPS and their pinch-hitters putting up a .643 OPS.

It's impossible to statistically to link the Yankees unproductive benches the last three seasons and their World Series “drought” during that time beyond a shadown of a doubt. But it sure as heck hasn't helped.

Injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira have already depleted the Yankees' spring reserve of reserves. Now Jeter is causing some concern. Role players (Dan Johnson, Brennan Boesch, Juan Rivera) are going to be forced into starting duty when the regular season begins.

Having Theriot would help shore up a shaky bench and add another stable piece of fabric to a patchwork 2013 squad.

Tags: Ryan Theriot , Yankees , Eduardo Nunez , Jayson Nix

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