Brendan Ryan’s Job Should Not Be In Jeopardy
With the Mariners scuffling and Brendan Ryan in the midst of an 0 for 25 slump, there seems to be some clamoring for some change at shortstop. I’ll be honest – I find this to be pretty strange.
Brendan Ryan is not a particularly good hitter. At his best, he’s been a bit below league average. At his worst, he’s been one of the least effective hitters in the game. He bounces around between awful and tolerable at the plate, and because he’s not particularly good at hitting, he has stretches where he looks absolutely hopeless – like the one he’s in now.
In fact, Ryan has a stretch like this every few months.
In June of 2010, he had a five game stretch where he went 0 for 17.
In July of 2010, he had an eight game stretch where he went 0 for 21.
Last April/May, he had a six game stretch where he went 0 for 19.
Last August, Ryan had a six game stretch where he went 0 for 15.
This one’s included more strikeouts, so I guess it looks worse than the others, but it’s not like Ryan going hitless for an extended period of time is anything new. This happens to bad hitters more often than you might think.
Of course, Ryan isn’t in the line-up for his bat, he’s in there for his glove, which happens to be amongst the best in baseball. And, yes, Ryan’s defense makes up for his offensive shortcomings, at least to a large enough degree to make him a roughly league average shortstop. Since the start of the 2009 season, Ryan has hit just .247/.308/.333 (that’s a 77 wRC+) but has still been worth +7.4 WAR, the 16th highest total of any shortstop during the last 3+ years.
He’s a classic great glove/no bat shortstop, and Major League teams have been running these guys out since the beginning of time. In fact, the M’s had a young shortstop with this exact same skillset 20 years ago. From 1991 to 1993, Omar Vizquel hit .261/.321/.314 (that’s also a 77 wRC+), yet his excellent defense allowed him to rack up +8.4 WAR in those three years. The Mariners then traded him away for an “offensive upgrade” in Felix Fermin, and, well, you know the rest.
I’m not saying Brendan Ryan is Omar Vizquel. I am saying that Ryan is a top shelf defensive shortstop, however, and he creates enough value with the glove that the Mariners can live with some offensive shortcomings. Getting a worse player in the line-up, even if that worse player brings more offense to the table, isn’t going to help the Mariners win more games. The Mariners don’t “need more offense” – they need more production, and just trading a few more runs scored for a few more runs allowed doesn’t get them anywhere.
Yes, you could put Kyle Seager at shortstop and Alex Liddi at third and take the hit defensively, but what’s the point? If you want to get Liddi on the field, just play him at DH and put Carp in left, or just put Liddi himself in left and see how quickly he can pick up playing the outfield. The Mariners have a useless player with no value to the team and no future in the organization whose playing time can easily be stripped and given to Liddi if getting him more regular work is the goal, and it doesn’t require the team take a significant hit defensively (Figgins, you might have noticed, is a lousy left fielder) in order to make it happen.
If you want to play Seager at short occasionally against righties on days when Montero is DHing and you can only have three of Seager/Ryan/Carp/Liddi in the line-up in some combination of 3B/SS/LF, fine, having him play there once a week or so won’t destroy you, especially if you can line it up with a day that a flyball guy like Noesi is throwing. But, let’s not kid ourselves – Brendan Ryan is still one of the five or six best position players on this team, and the team is worse on days when he doesn’t play.
As for Munenori Kawasaki, he’s an even worse hitter than Ryan. ZIPS projects him for a team worst .600 OPS going forward, and he’s done absolutely nothing to show that his lack of hitting in Japan wasn’t a reflection of his actual skills. He’s never hit, he’s not going to hit, and giving him playing time for any reason besides “Ryan needs a day off” is a waste of everyone’s time.
Over on FanGraphs, we update the rest-of-season ZIPS projections on a daily basis, taking into account all performance up through the prior night’s games, and adjusting for how players have performed most recently. Among position players, here’s how ZIPS sees the relative merits of the guys on the roster for the remainder of the 2012 season:
Ackley: +3.3 WAR
Seager: +2.4 WAR
Ichiro: +2.2 WAR
Montero: +1.8 WAR
Ryan: +1.8 WAR
Carp: +1.6 WAR
Saunders: +1.4 WAR
Liddi: +1.3 WAR
Liddi’s had a nice start to the year, and the team should try to find ways to work him in more often (here’s an idea: release Chone Figgins), but benching Brendan Ryan isn’t going to do this team any good. If they want to give him another day off to help “clear his head”, fine, he’s not good enough to necessitate being in the line-up every single day.
But stop calling for Brendan Ryan to lose his job. He’s the best shortstop in the organization and it’s not even close. He’s not going to slump forever, and he’s not the problem with the Mariners roster.