Earlier this fall, there was a post here about Tulowitzki and Drew being the two best shortstops in baseball. A comment to that post pointed out that Brendan Ryan as a fielder danced blithely above those two other guys. After taking a look at the numbers, the comment was correct. Ryan is an amazing fielding shortstop. Unfortunately, he had a terrible season batting in 2010.
How bad was it? Ryan's On Base Percentage was .279 with a batting average of .222. Ryan's never had any power, so the low average on low OBP meant a batter that offered no value at all to the Cardinals' line up. If he could just hit like he did in 2009 when he batted .292 with an OBP of .340, then he would stil be the Cardinals' shortstop. Instead, he's been traded to the Seattle Mariners for a low-minors, 100 MPH-throwing, 6.23 ERA guy in the Mariners' system (Maikel Cleto). Or to put it another way: The Cardinals dumped their shortstop for a wing and a prayer.
Frankly, this deal doesn't make sense for either team. Ryan is too good a fielding shortstop to give up on in this day and age with very few quality shortstops in the game. Ryan's results in 2009 almost exactly duplicated his career line in the minor leagues. That would seem to be more of an indication of Ryan's ability than his 2010 debacle. Check that. 2010 batting debacle. Even with his low offense, Ryan's WAR was still in the positive numbers and bWAR was almost 1. That shows you just how good a shortstop he is. If his bat can come back just a little, he could be again the player that garnered a 3.4 WAR in 2009.
Instead, the Cardinals will turn to Ryan Theriot who is three years older and has NEVER had a year close to 3.4 WAR. Theriot won't add much more with the bat than Ryan did and he is no where near as good a fielder. Theriot finished 2010 with a negative WAR according to BR. Nothing about that move makes any sense for the Cardinals. The Cardinals rely on their big starting rotation to throw a bunch of grounders and those pitchers have a weaker infield now. There is nothing about Theriot's game that thrills this Fan other than his nickname, which is world class.
This move sort of smacks of another player that got afoul of Tony LaRussa. Normally a guy like Ryan would be a LaRussa favorite, but giving the shortstop job to an inferior player has to mean that Ryan wasn't on his manager's good side.
Perhaps Theriot is just considered a place holder until the Cardinals think that Pete Kozma is ready for prime time. Kosma is highly touted but to this point, strikes out too much, doesn't get on base enough and makes a ton of errors for the Cardinals' farm teams. He was drafted #1 by the Cardinals in 2007 and they might want to see if he can play at some point this season.
Meanwhile, it's hard to figure what the Mariners will be doing with Ryan. They already have Jack Wilson, the same sort of player that Ryan is who makes $5 million a year. Getting paid that kind of money means that Wilson has to play. Perhaps the Mariners will put Ryan at second and move Figgins back to third? That's possible, but Ryan's best position is shortstop. One thing is now true though: The Mariners have two of the slickest fielding shortstops in MLB. Too bad neither of them excites anyone with their bats.