Brendan Ryan is batting .149. His manager, Eric Wedge, said some unhappy things about Ryan recently and benched him against the Yankees. with the clinching line being: "He's not 25 years old, he's 30 years old,'' Wedge added. "It's time for him to figure out what he needs to do to be successful. I can't be any more honest than that.'' We hear you, loud and clear, Mr. Wedge. But are you right? Does Brendan Ryan need to hit to help his team?
Well, sure, it would be helpful if Ryan could hit a bit. But he hasn't. Ryan is a guy you leave in the eighth or ninth hole in your lineup and kind of hope he does something once in a while. Certainly, when you bat him second in the order, Mr. Wedge, you are going to be setting yourself up for some anger management. But that's on you because Brendan Ryan should never hit there.
It's pretty safe to say that Brendan Ryan is never going to hit. His wOBA the last three seasons are, .256, .291 and this season, .225. But does he need to? Well again, yeah, it would be nice if he could. But he can't. So take that part of the question out of there. The question then is: Is he still a valuable player whether he hits or not and the answer is yes. When a guy can play shortstop like he can, hitting would be nice, but it should be optional.
If this basement seat observer was Eric Wedge, an arm would be put over Ryan's shoulder. He would be told not to worry about his offense but to keep working on it. He would be told to just keep playing great shortstop. But there are two problems with this point of view.
First, nobody seems to be able to agree about the accuracy and viability of our fielding statistics. And those that do buy into them caution that a third of a season or a half of a season is too short a sample size to make anything of what we are looking at. The problem, of course, is that's all we we have to look at right now. In other words, when Fangraphs ranks shortstops, those fielding metrics are part of the valuation process. That leaderboard does not come with a warning label that such value rankings might seem closer than they appear.
But we are covered either way with Brendan Ryan because his high rankings defensively have been consistent. They do not fly up and down. And the eye-test (observations) just marvels at how good he is at his position. Ryan's run prevention ability does not appear to be a fluke or overrated. The guy is simply a great shortstop.
Because of that ability, and despite batting .149, Ryan is in the upper end of the middle of the pack for shortstops in baseball with 0.6 fWAR. This, if you believe the Fangraphs' valuation, means that Ryan is more valuable so far this season than Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins.
And his fielding should not be under-emphasized. Much of the Mariners' pitching staff consists of ground ball pitchers. Even Felix Hernandez is more of a ground ball guy this season than in the past. Wouldn't you want a large part of your strategy to get a shortstop as good as Ryan to back them up?
Perhaps depending on Fangraphs for the valuation or the worth of a player is not useful. Perhaps it is. Baseball-reference.com gives Ryan even more value than Fangraphs does. Are they both wrong? If they are, why would they be posting stuff to mislead us?
From this perspective, Brendan Ryan is one of the best defensive shortstops to come a long in a long time. Mark Belanger was not "worth" playing because he couldn't hit in all those Baltimore Orioles season. But Earl Weaver knew better. Mark Belanger saved more runs with his defense than scored with his offense. Ryan is a successor of that way of thinking.
This writer has said it before and will say it again: It doesn't matter if Brendan Ryan can't hit. Just pencil his name into the lineup (at the bottom) and sit back and watch all the runs he saves with his glove.