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On Ground Balls, Stay Low Sweet Theriot?

Watching the last two Dodger games live at the stadium has given me a first-hand look at the fielding of new second baseman Ryan Theriot.  That is of course a small sample size - and I am no scout - but he looks to my eye like a rangy, sure-handed 2B who makes a quick turn in the double-play pivot.  I imagine I was not the only one who thought a couple times during those games, "I don't think Blake DeWitt makes that play."

Defensive metrics are not yet the be-all, end-all for measuring defensive play, but they do help gain some understanding and insight.  Courtesy of Fangraphs, here are some fielding statistics for Theriot, DeWitt, and David Eckstein and Felipe Lopez, who, like Theriot, is in his age-30 season, as points of comparison.  (Note that UZR is considered unreliable in small sample sizes, such as partial seasons, and often doesn't stabilize until three full seasons.  Quick rule of thumb for a full season is around 1300 innings.)

Position Innings
Ryan Theriot SS 3699 3.4 1.4
Ryan Theriot 2B 1116 4.5 6.8
Blake DeWitt 3B 795 7.1 10.8
Blake DeWitt 2B 860 -4.5 -7.3
Felipe Lopez SS 5137 -40.8 -10.9
Felipe Lopez 2B 2586 -1.7 -0.5
David Eckstein SS 8302 -13.1 -2.4
David Eckstein 2B 2053 0.6 0.3


Theriot has just enough career innings manning shortstop to suggest that his UZR/150 is a pretty accurate measure of his defensive abilities as a decent, average fielding SS.  One expects players who are good enough to even be considered as major-league shortstops to be even better fielders on the other side of the bag.  On the other hand, players that convert from the hot corner to second base are moving up the skill scale on the defensive spectrum and one would expect lesser defensive ratings.  (In fact the attempt isn't made too often; Bill Madlock anyone?)

Lopez and Eckstein are recent examples of full-time shortstops who have moved closer to the first baseman and have gone from sub-standard fielding shortstops to servicable second basemen.  (Eckstein made this move full-time in his age 34 season, four years older than Theriot is now.)  It seems reasonable to expect Theriot to make this move and change from an average SS to a pretty good fielding 2B, while it is somewhat likely that DeWitt will struggle to achieve or maintain average fielding 2B status.  Theriot's 6.8 UZR/150 would be amongst the better fielding 2B this season in the majors; only six full-time 2B are at 7.0 or better this season (small sample size warning).

A side point on Theriot/DeWitt: besides the cost factor, the other thing will be missed about DeWitt is his left-handed bat and the handedness advantage he brought to the plate against the great majority of pitchers.  This probably aids him in having a career OPS+ of 95, compared to Theriot's 82 (per  Without DeWitt, the Dodgers have three right-handed bats to choose from at second base, Theriot, Jamey Carroll, and Ronnie Belliard, a less than ideal situation.

I leave it to the more sabremetric in the community to assess how big the fielding difference between DeWitt and Theriot is in terms of team wins and such things, and how much that offsets the offensive loss, but the defensive improvement at least seems to be more than negligible.


  • Old friend James McDonald has a chance to help the Dodgers a little tonight as he makes his first start for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Colorado Rockies, a team that is ahead of the Dodgers by 1/2 game in the standings.
  • I'm behind in the comments - we attended the last two games at DS - so perhaps this comparison was already made, but Russell Martin's non-slide at home that caused his injury immediately flashed my memory back to Ivan DeJesus's non-slide at home last spring that snapped his leg.

    I heard it reported by Josh Suchon and Ken Levine on KABC's DodgerTalk that Ted Lilly (the on-deck batter) yelled at Martin to "get down, get down", but I am with those that believe that Lilly was out of position and should have been in Martin's line-of-sight behind home plate giving the visual signal to slide.  Maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but if that would have prevented Martin's injury, how well does Lilly have to pitch in his last ten or so starts to make up for the difference between Martin playing and the duo of Brad Ausmus and A.J. Ellis splitting time for two months?
  • Last night's victory was the most lopsided for the Dodgers since the 14 -1 win over Arizona on July 3.
  • Andre Ethier's one home run, two doubles performance yesterday was his first multiple extra-base hit game since June 8, and the first to include a home run since May 2.