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Cubs' Theriot measures success in different ways
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Chicago Cubs' Ronny Cedeno, left, and Ryan Theriot have some fun at baseball spring training Tuesday.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 2/24/2008 12:26 AM

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MESA, Ariz. -- Ryan Theriot knows all about the statistical revolution that has gripped baseball.

Theriot claims not to be a numbers guy, so it has to gall him doubly that the stat-heads have encroached on another of his favorite pastimes.

"I was reading the paper the other day, and there was fantasy bass fishing," he said. "I'm like, 'This is funny.' I like to fish, but fantasy bass fishing would screw it up for me. I would hate fishing after that."

First the ballfield and now the fishing hole? Say it ain't so.

Ah, but apparently it is so, and the scrappy Theriot would just as soon tells those statistics to shut up, whether they deal with ballplayers in pinstripes or just plain striped bass.

Theriot doesn't hate baseball, but the stats-oriented crew probably can't find much love for him.

And that might be their loss.

Theriot is one of those throwback players who'd rather get his uniform dirty than impress the pencil pushers at Baseball Prospectus.

The Cubs cite Theriot as a big reason they won the National League Central last year, even though you might be telling a fish story to say his numbers were outstanding.

A bad September slump, which saw Theriot go 20-for-99 (.202), dropped his season batting average to .266 and his on-base percentage to .326. The number-crunchers say that can't possibly bode well for Theriot and the Cubs this year.

Even though Theriot may not put all his stock in numbers, he knows what they are and that people are going to analyze them.

"It's getting a lot more numbers oriented, which in some cases is good," he said. "In some cases, it's not. It's easy to get wrapped up in that, too, because it's fact. It's truth. It's right there for you. You can see the numbers. It's easy to explain to somebody.

"What's hard to explain, what's hard to show is what you guys see every day: the intangibles. You guys come into the locker room and see how the players interact with each other and interact with others. That's stuff hard to explain to somebody who really doesn't understand."

For example, getting one's uniform dirty and saving a run from scoring even though you might have gone 0-for-4 that day?

"You don't put that down in the stats," he said.

Lou Piniella had little to go on a year ago, when Theriot caught his eye in spring training. The new Cubs manager liked what he saw and told Theriot to relax, that he had made the team. At the time, Theriot had just 62 games of major-league experience.

By late April, Theriot had supplanted veteran Cesar Izturis as the starting shortstop. He wound up leading the Cubs with 28 stolen bases and batted .300 as the leadoff man, filling in when Alfonso Soriano was not in the lineup.

It came as no great shock to Cubs farm director Oneri Fleita.

"We always thought the guy was a gamer," Fleita said Saturday. "Mentally tough. He's always been an 'intangibles' guy with great makeup. Those guys, if given an opportunity, usually seize it.

"He came to camp last spring with an outfield glove. 'Just put me in, Coach,' and I'll play.' I think that attitude and his character had a lot to do with the success he had. He just wants to be part of the team. He'll drive the bus, if necessary."

Theriot batted .348 in July, but the Cubs say the grind of a long season took its toll. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Theriot played in 148 regular-season games, by far the most of his professional career.

"I don't feel like it wrecked me," he said. "I'm not about numbers. I'm not a numbers guy at all. You look through my career, and nothing's ever going to jump out at you. I've been lucky to have coaches and management who don't buy into that stuff.

"There's lots you can say about a guy who hits .300 or .320 for that matter. How many runs did he score, how many hits did he get when it was important?"

The analysts have weighed in on Theriot, with Baseball Prospectus projecting a .330 OBP.

So how does Theriot analyze himself?

"I'm going to play hard," he said. "I'm going to give everything I've got. And I'm not afraid to fail. I think I'll do what it takes to do something great and help the team win. I take pride in my defense. Either you've got to drive them in or you've got to save a run.

"I think it's easier for me to save them than drive them in. I'm realistic about my game. I think I know what I can and can't do. I know my limitations."

Theriot has the team made this spring, so Piniella won't have to tell him to relax. It wouldn't work.

"I never relax," Theriot said. "When you relax and get complacent, somebody sneaks up behind you and gets you. I approach it just as I have in the past trying to make a Double-A team, trying to make a Triple-A team, trying to make the major-league team in '05.

"It's worked in the past, and it'll continue to work."