NBC Sports Hardball Talk discussed a Jon Heyman rumor that the Astros would have interest in the Cardinals' infielder Ryan Theriot if he is non-tendered. With the signing of Rafael Furcal, Theriot's future with the Cardinals is questionable. Since similar rumors appeared a few weeks ago, this report doesn't appear to be linked to the new GM's past history as a Cardinals' executive.
I am skeptical that the Astros are really that interested in Theriot. Unless Theriot will come at a bargain basement price, this wouldn't be an overly appealing move for the Astros. I can see the possibility that the Astros will sign a lower rung veteran shortstop. But Theriot is a similar player to Angel Sanchez, another veteran middle infielder on the team. Theriot is a better player than Sanchez, but probably not by a wide margin. Yes, Theriot might improve the team if he replaced Sanchez on the roster. But is the improvement significant enough to justify the difference in salary? Theriot was paid a little over $3 million last year, while Sanchez was paid $440,000. Sanchez is not yet arbitration eligible--but even if we assume that Sanchez would get a pay raise to $900,000 and Theriot accepted a pay cut to $2 million, Theriot increases team costs by $1.1 million. That doesn't seem like a lot, but if the Astros are in a severe cost cutting mode, increased costs will be under the microscope.
Based on the advanced defensive metrics Theriot and Sanchez appear to be similar players, which is to say that they both are below average at shortstop and above average at 2d base. Both players have little power. However, Theriot is somewhat of an improvement over Sanchez on offense. Theriot's offense won't set the world on fire, but he is likely to provide a better on base percentage than Sanchez. Bill James projections for Sanchez and Theriot are shown below.
(BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, wOBA, BB/K)
Theriot .278, .338, .334, .682, .304, 71%
Sanchez .256, .314, .317, .631, .296, 51%
Sanchez's on base skills are poor, and that is the main reason that Theriot looks to be better. In his younger days, Theriot was valuable because he provided decent defense at shortstop with a good OBP. In his later years, Theriot's ability to play shortstop defense has diminished with age, and his walk rates and OBP have declined. But he still appears to be a better offensive player than Sanchez.
I averaged Theriot's last three years of UZR data. Because of Angel Sanchez's limited ML experience, I used the last two years of UZR data for him. To put their defensive runs saved on a consistent basis, I have used UZR/150 and assumed that the playing time will be split 70% shortstop and 30% second base. (As I noted, both players are much better at 2d base, therefore requiring identical playing time at the two positions is necessary for comparison purposes.) The resulting UZR/150 is -6.2 for Sanchez and -2.46 for Theriot. However because the year to year variance for each player is high, it's hard to label either player as clearly better on defense. Taking into account that Theriot has considerably more experience at shortstop, as well as my own unfortunate reaction to watching Sanchez play shortstop, my gut feeling is that Theriot would be slightly better at shortstop than Sanchez.
According to Fangraphs, Sanchez was +2.3 for baserunning and Theriot was -0.9 in 2011. For anyone who watches them, Theriot appears to have better foot speed than Sanchez. But Theriot's results were hurt by 6 caught stealing in 10 attempts last year. Earlier in his career, Theriot was one of the better base stealers in the NL. And, over his career, Theriot has been successful in over 70% of his steal attempts. I don't know how much of Theriot's deteriorating base stealing results are due to age vs. just a bad year. Because Sanchez is visibly slow, I am skeptical of giving him a base running advantage. I'll just call it a draw.
Sanchez had 0.5 WAR and Theriot has 0.7 WAR last season. If you reduce Theriot's WAR to account for the difference in plate appearances, Theriot's WAR exceeds Sanchez's WAR by only 0.01. However, the WAR comparison may be slightly biased against Theriot, because he played a greater percent of the time at shortstop relative to Sanchez. Overall, Theriot played a lot more for the Cardinals than Sanchez did for the Astros, but their WAR results confirms that they were roughly similar players last year.
So, what's your thoughts?