Friday, March 5, 2010

2010 Cubs Preview: Shortstop

I hope we see a lot less of this uppercut swing in 2010.

There's a lot to discuss when it comes to the Cubs' shortstop position. Obviously Ryan Theriot will be the starting shortstop come April 5, so let's start with him. There are a few stats we need to explore:

Career HR prior to 2009: 7
HR in 2009: 7

2007 + 2008 strikeouts: 108
2009 strikeouts: 93

When Theriot shocked the Wrigley Field fans with a go-ahead grand slam against the Marlins on May 1 of last year, it seemed that he had found a new weapon. "This scrappy singles hitter can put a charge into one? This is great!"

But it wasn't. Theriot seemed to become addicted to the idea of trying to hit the long ball. This resulted in a very un-Theriot-like uppercut swing, way too many warning track fly balls, and a tendency to pull off the ball instead of staying inside of it and hitting the ball to the right side.

From a successful '08 season to a so-so '09 season, Theriot's average dropped from .307 to .284, his OBP dropped from .387 to .343, and his walks fell from 73 to 51. To put it mildly, I was ecstatic to hear Theriot say this:
"I had a stretch where I hit some out of the park last year, but that's not my job. I need to get on base and set the table for the big boys."

-From an AP story by Mike Nadel
Precisely. It was almost ridiculous how good Theriot was in 2008 at stroking the ball through the right side of the infield. It was ridiculous how rarely he did so in 2009. If Fukudome ends up being the main leadoff man, these types of hits will serve the Cubs well as Fukudome, a good base runner, will be able to go from first to third.

The second thing we need to talk about is the possibility that Theriot will be moved to second base if Starlin Castro is brought up at some point to play short. This wouldn't necessarily affect his offensive production, but it does obviously make a difference for the Cubs defensively. In my opinion, Theriot is the second-weakest link in the Cubs' defense, behind Soriano. While his range is decent (though not great), his arm is terrible. Though he seems to prefer playing short, I think the overall infield defense would be considerably stronger with him at second. So I wasn't ecstatic to read that he's quite defensive about his defensive position:
"Competition is good because it brings out the best in all of us. But to be quite honest with you, 'What have you [referring to Castro] done at the major league level?' Those expectations and that pressure, everybody deals with that differently. I think it takes a little bit more than just ability."

-AP story by Mike Nadel
When asked earlier in the spring about Castro possibly taking over at short, Theriot said, "He's going to have to come get it." Theriot did back off a bit in later comments:

"It would be wonderful to see a guy come up with those tools and use every single one of them. It could change my role, sure, but that's all right. My role's been changed quite a bit. The good news is, I've always had a role.

"Be a part of it. Contribute. Win. That's the ultimate goal of everybody here. You put your personal feelings aside and do what's best for the club."

Nice. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not proclaiming that Starlin Castro is the Cubs' savior, or that it's even close to a guarantee that he'll be a productive member of the Cubs' big league club this season. But if Castro proves capable and Piniella asks Theriot to move to second, I hope he would do exactly what he said--put his personal feelings aside and do what's best for the club. The Cubs are already very strong defensively at the corners. Having Castro and Theriot in the middle infield would give them one of the better defensive infields in the league.

Prediction: .296 avg, .385 OBP, 2 HR, 35 RBI, 65 K, 60 BB


1 comment:

  1. I think you're pretty right on, but I predict he'll stumble into a few more HR's: .292 avg, .378 OBP, 5 HR, 40 RBI.

    And unless Baker has an unexpectedly good season, I think/hope Theriot quickly moves to 2nd to make room for Castro.