Everyone was surprised today when the Seattle Mariners announced that Brendan Ryan was going to be the every day shortstop and that Jack Wilson was moving to second base. The move signifies that Brendan Ryan has surpassed Wilson as the best fielding shortstop in baseball. Either way the decision went, the Mariners would not have gone wrong as both shortstops are terrific. But Wilson is 33 and perhaps his best days are behind him.
The situation for the Mariners might be unique as this Fan can never remember two of the best fielding shortstops in baseball fighting it out for the same job. But this Fan has also said all along that Ryan offers much more of an upside in his capabilities than Wilson. Ryan had a bad year at the plate last year for the Cardinals, but Wilson has had pretty much a bad career at the plate. Fangraphs gives his lifetime batting a value of -130 runs. Ouch. Ryan at least has a chance to be a good hitter if he can get back to where he was in 2009.
If you read the linked article above, it seems clear that the Mariners' general manager went out of his way to say that this is the best answer for now. If you read a little more into those words than were actually said, it's clear that the Mariners believe that Ryan can be their shortstop for the long haul. Whomever was going to play second was basically a place holder for Dustin Ackley. The Mariners obviously feel that Wilson is the more temporary player for the team than Ryan.
The article also mentions that Ryan and Wilson worked out this past winter, which is good news for those who view Ryan as immature. Wilson is a pro and has always had a good attitude about playing the game respectfully. Wilson understandably wants to play shortstop, but he's not complaining. He just states that he still thinks he's a shortstop. Perhaps by mid-season, he'll get the chance. When the time comes for the Mariners to turn to Dustin Ackley, they can always trade Wilson to the Giants or the Cardinals when those two teams tire of Miguel Tejada and Ryan Theriot respectively. And there is no doubt those two teams will tire of those less than stellar shortstop. In fact, if the Fan was the GM for the Cardinals, Wilson would be on the radar screen immediately.
Here are some more fact based reasons why this is the right call. Fangraphs has a new fielding statistic they call the Aggregate Defensive Ratings or ADR. This statistic combines a the multiple fielding metrics that are out there to give us a more holistic view of where a fielder stands. It's still not perfect, but it's better than what we've had to go by before. According to ADR, Wilson has had scores of 10, 16 and 5 the past three seasons. Last season is understandable considering the injuries Wilson went through. Ryan's scores the past three seasons were 4, 13, 14. Ryan scored low in 2008 because he only played 255 innings. But as you can see, his scores show much more of an uptake. There is another fielding metric Fangraphs uses called Fans Scouting Report. The report scores fielders on instincts, first step, speed, hands, release, arm strength and arm accuracy. here are their numbers side by side:
Wilson: 81, 74, 60, 80, 83, 63, 82
Ryan: 87, 86, 76, 83, 81, 74, 70
Ryan easily has Wilson on speed and arm strength. The only nod in the numbers to Wilson is the arm accuracy. But Ryan's number is nothing to sneeze at there either.
Brendan Ryan has an excellent chance to restart his career. Now out from his unhealthy situation with Tony LaRussa, he can flourish in his new environment. The folks in Seattle should get ready for a spectacular fielding display from the best shortstop on the field every day. He's going to thrive. That's the prediction here. And this should be good news for those suffering Mariners fans from a year ago. This year, unlike the Figgins/Lopez fiasco of a year ago, the correct decisions are being made for the right reasons.
Have fun, Seattle watching the show at short. And have hope Giants and Cardinal fans, you may have help soon at short.