Avoid the Riot

Ryan Theriot had a surprisingly good season, both in real and fantasy baseball. He hit a somewhat impressive .307/.387/.359, striking out 15 times less than he walked and stealing 22 bases (granted, he was caught 13 times). However, his season was fueled by an unsustainably high batting average, and if that BA regresses next season, he could hurt your fantasy team.

Theriot’s BABIP was .335 this year; however, his expected BABIP was a mere .291 (according to a new model I introduced). If we adjust his batting average to be in line with his expected BABIP, his BA falls all the way to .267. Considering that Theriot hits for virtually no power and drives in very few runs, this drop in BA would have a huge impact on his overall value.

The lower BA would result in a lower OBP, which would lead to fewer runs scored and fewer opportunities to steal bases. Additionally, Theriot was downright awful at stealing bases in 2008, getting caught in 37% of his attempts. Unless he improves upon this, it’s possible that the Cubs will become more reluctant to let him steal, depressing his stolen base total even further.

There is little evidence to suggest that the BABIP information about Theriot is incorrect. His career batting average in the minors was .271; his BABIP in the minors was .309. There’s no reason to think that either of these things has suddenly improved significantly, and there’s no reason to think that Theriot can consistently beat his expected BABIP (for reference, in 2007 his actual BABIP was .283 and his expected BABIP was .311).

Considering that nearly all of Theriot’s value revolves around his inflated batting average, it would be a good idea to avoid him in most fantasy drafts next season. That’s not to say he’ll be entirely without value, but just make sure you value him as a ~.270 hitter who may not even reach last year’s SB total, rather than a ~.310 hitter with the chance to surpass 30 steals.

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19 Responses to “Avoid the Riot”

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  1. Samg says:

    What about using Fibbonacci Win Points for stolen bases?

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  2. Matt says:

    You’re way off about Theriot’s hitting.

    “There’s no reason to think that either of these things has suddenly improved significantly”

    Sure there is, dude, just because there isn’t a stat for it doesn’t mean ‘experiance’ isn’t a factor.

    When you think of Ryan Theriot, think of Mark Grace or Brian Giles with no power, because that’s the kind of hitter Ryan Theriot is trying to be.

    Theriot chased out of the zone less often and he made less contact out of the zone in 2008 than he did in 2007. He also made more contact in the zone in 2008 than he did in 2007. Clearly hitters generally make better contact in the zone than outside the zone. Theriot changed the way he hit so he would have more influence on whether or not the ball hit off his bat would result in a hit or not.

    Actually, Theriot’s change from 2007 to 2008 just shows you how absolutely worthless the BABIP and how arrogant sabermetrics can be.

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    • Craig says:

      “Theriot changed the way he hit so he would have more influence on whether or not the ball hit off his bat would result in a hit or not.”

      Two things wrong with that:

      1. The changes in O-Swing%, O-Contact%, and Z-Contact% were all very slight and do not constitute statistical significance even *before* you consider the general fluctuation of these figures from year to year.

      2. You completely ignored the 173 plate appearances he logged in 2005 and 2006. If you compared his 2008 plate discipline stats to his career totals, you’ll find them all completely in sync with the exception of F-Strike%. But to reiterate the first point, these supposed changes from 2007 to 2008 were not significant in the first place. If you want actual numbers, a 1.7% decrease in O-Swing meant that he swung at 20 fewer pitches outside of the zone, or one in every 125 pitches he saw. A 6.6% decrease in O-Contact meant 15 fewer balls contacted outside of the zone, or one in every 166 pitches he saw. A 1.1% increase in Z-Contact meant 9 more balls contacted inside the zone, or one in every 277 pitches he saw. These are all well within the boundaries of normal fluctuation and do NOT conclusively constitute a change in approach.

      If you want to talk about arrogance, how about throwing out numbers without having any idea what they really mean?

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      • Matt says:

        Bruce Miles, “At the all-star break, Theriot leads all Cubs regulars with an OBP of .394. Perhaps Theriot’s determination to work hard and change his approach at the plate are testament to the human spirit.”

        Anybody who avidly follows the Cubs knows that he changed his plate approach. Hell, if you tuned in early in the season you could have heard Bob Brenley ranting about Theriot’s change in plate approach. It’s common knowledge that he changed his plate approach.

        And yes, I understand full well what BABIP is, and yes, these ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ stats like BABIP for hitters and pitcher or FIP for pitchers are arrogant. What is more arrogant than looking at at those numbers and tell a baseball player that they played as well as they did last year on accident?

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      • Craig says:

        Oh, really, a change in plate approach? Like how Derrek Lee credited his monster 2005 to a change in his batting stance and then the very next year went back to being the same exact player he had always been as if 2005 never happened? Is that the kind of meaningful, sustainable change you’re talking about? C’mon, you’re the self-appointed Cubs guru here.

        Take a look at the career BABIP (or any stat, really) graphs of any given player and you will see tremendous peaks and valleys. Ted Williams had nine seasons in which his BABIP deviated from the previous season’s by at least 30 points and four by at least 40. Rod Carew had five 40 point swings, as did Hank Aaron, Joe Morgan and Eddie Murray. Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield had six. Willie McCovey, George Brett and Pete Rose had seven. Cal Ripken, Jr. and Paul Molitor had eight. Rickey Henderson also had eight in addition to an impressive 91 point spike at the age of 40 (where hitters are known to show vast improvement) and followed it up with a 90 point dip the following year.

        Now, are history’s all-time greats really changing their approaches *that* drastically *that* often or is BABIP just a lot more variable and subject to luck than you’re willing to admit?

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      • Matt says:

        You’ve got to be kidding me.

        There isn’t any question at all that Lee changed his approach in spring training in 2005.

        Lee didn’t credit his 2005 on changing his approach after the fact. Everybody knew in spring training that he was working hard with Matthews to widen his swing. Ron Santo even predicted that Lee would have a great year before the season started.

        The very next season Lee’s numbers went down because broke his wrist and missed most of the season. How did you miss that?

        Baseball players make adjustments in their approach all the time, because other baseabll players make adjustments to them.

        And not only hitters make adjustments, but pitchers do too. Ryan Dempster did last year when he lost weight and put that little glove shake before his delivery. Turns out there is actually a measurable improvement in his slider and changeup.

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      • Craig says:

        I didn’t miss it. I ignored it because he’s had two full, healthy seasons since then and still hasn’t been able to come close to replicating his 2005 success on any front. See my response to Jim below for more.

        I also didn’t mean to imply that there wasn’t a change in Lee’s approach. I caught a a Cubs game on ESPN in 2005 where he credited that year’s success to an opening of his stance that allowed him to see the ball better, which is the only reason I was even aware of it.

        And yes, the fact that there are constant adjustments and counter-adjustments is exactly the point that I clumsily tried to make. Batters and pitchers make changes all the time that lead to short term successes but don’t necessarily augur continued success in the future. “I make adjustments to you and then you make adjustments to me and now we’re back to where we started from” is the long and short of it.

        You know, if you had just quoted Miles and Brenley in the first place, we could have avoided this whole situation.

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  3. David says:

    Matt – time will tell whether or not you’re wrong, but you would do well not to accuse other people of being arrogant while sounding pretty arrogant yourself.

    And BABIP is worthless? Tell Edwin Jackson that. Sabermetrics is arrogant? Well how about the Yankees fans that dismiss any criticism of Derek Jeter’s fielding (or anything at all for that matter) as being dumb and wrong? Now it’s true, Dave Cameron (just to pick a random guy) can come off as “arrogant” at times, I’ll admit that – but he also comes off as “correct” most of the time, too.

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  4. Jim says:

    I am going to stay out of the main argument, but I can’t stand idly by while all these bad examples get thrown around.

    Brian Giles: Brian has always had excellent plate discipline, but he had power back in the day. He also plays in a terrible park for homeruns. I really don’t think he and Ryan Theriot have much in common.

    Derrek Lee: He lost much of his power due to his wrist injury, although I do agree that you don’t hit 46 homeruns or however many because of a changed batting stance.

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    • Craig says:

      Well, his wrist was certainly healthy enough to let him post a .259 IsoP in the 106 games spanning July 13, 2007 to May 12, 2008, so I don’t think you can really chalk up the .139 IsoP he posted from May 13 on to a bad wrist barring testimony from Lee or those around him.

      As for the other, Matt said Giles *without* the power, which actually isn’t a bad comparison at all. Neither chase too many balls out of the zone and their Z-Swing, O-Contact and Z-Contact are all rather similar. The only major difference aside from O-Swing is that since Theriot won’t hurt you with power, pitchers are able to pound the strike zone against him, depressing his walk rate.

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    • Matt says:

      “Brian has always had excellent plate discipline, but he had power back in the day. He also plays in a terrible park for homeruns. I really don’t think he and Ryan Theriot have much in common.”

      What I wrote was this: “When you think of Ryan Theriot, think of Mark Grace or Brian Giles with no power, because that’s the kind of hitter Ryan Theriot is trying to be.”

      I made the point that Theriot has no power and they do have something in common.

      Here are the top five hitters in terms of cantact percentage:
      1. Brian Giles, 92.8%
      2. Placido Polanco, 92.7%
      3. Dustin Padroia, 92.3%
      4. Ryan Theriot, 91.9%
      5. Marco Scutaro, 92.5%

      Theriot is the 26th best in MLB at not swinging at pitches outside the zone, only swinging at pitches outside of the zone 19.4% of the time.

      Of those players who were better at making contact with the baseball than Theriot (Giles, Polanco, Padroia) only one of them swung at pitches outside of the zone less than Theriot, Brian Giles at 17.4%.

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  5. nilodnayr says:

    What can be seen by Theriot’s “change in approach” is that he has basically given up all hope for any power. Look at his batted ball data in 08 compared to 07. His FB% dropped from 30% to 20% (lowest in baseball). That appears to have been a fundamental change. Since Theriot hits for such little power, I’d imagine that his FBs are converted to outs at a higher than average rate, so that tradeoff should have a positive real affect on his BABIP. If you apply some of the models that multiply GB, FB, and LD by constants, Theriot’s 2008 eBABIP and BABIP are pretty inline.

    Models are good an all, but as you mentioned in your original post, some guys just don’t fit. Theriot seems to be one of those guys. I’d guess one reason is that Theriot gets dinged for being retarded on the bases.

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  6. Ender says:

    An upgrade in GB% would also come with an upgrade in BABIP, of course it also would come wtih an upgrade in xBABIP…

    More times than not jumps in BABIP are just random fluctuations and fantasy baseball is all about playing the percentages so the original article doesn’t have anything wrong with it. Also the mention of how poor Theriot is at stealing has a lot of merit since they won’t keep sending him if he is that bad again next year.

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  7. Po says:

    I know I am about 3 months late to the party but I have a question about the expected BABIP.

    If a batters LD% jumps from 21.0% to 23.2% and their GB% jumps from 48.6% to 56.6% and their FB% rate drops from 30.5% to 20.2% how can their xBABIP drop from .311 to .291.

    That makes absolutely zero sense to me. If he increased the two things with the higher BABIP and lowered the one with a lower BABIP wouldnt his xBABIP raise not lower?

    I thought the 2008 Theriot was the Theriot we would see on a regular basis not the 2007 based on 2007’s BABIP. Maybe I am missing something, but if anyone could clarify that would be super.

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  8. Jeff W. says:


    Again, I am also late to this party but I wanted to make a note about Theriot’s minor-league numbers that you overlook — and its the difference between looking at pure numbers versus having seen the guy play and being familiar with his bio.

    As a minor leaguer, the Cubs were trying to train Theriot, a natural righty, to become a switch hitter. He took a lot of at bats from the “wrong” side of the plate. By the time he worked his way up to AA, he finally had a talk with the coaches and told them he was not really comfortable hitting as a lefty, and they let him hit exclusively as a right-handed hitter.

    Hitting from the “correct” side (for him), his average spiked and he eventually emerged as an everyday big-league player. I can’t find his LH/RH minor-league hitting splits (granted, I haven’t looked that hard) but I know he started hitting from the right-hand side pretty exclusively in AAA, where he was a .304 BA / .367 OBP guy in 312 PA.

    Long story short, I think your projection of him as a .270-ish hitter is inaccurate because you took into account all those left-handed at-bats. Theriot is not a left-handed hitter or a switch hitter, he is a natural RH hitter, and has demonstrated that he can hit in the .285-.295 range when batting as a righty.

    In nearly 1600 big-league at bats, certainly a legitimate sample size, he’s a career .289 hitter. That seems about right to me.

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  9. Jeff W. says:

    That should read “[i]in nearly 1600 big-league plate appearances . . . .” Theriot has over 1400 AB in about 1600 PA in the bigs. Sorry.

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