On Shortstop Defense


Last night’s Seattle Mariners game was fun to watch on a number of different levels. There was great pitching, some good defense, some close and exciting plays, the late go-ahead run by Miguel Olivo, and the very non-routine save by Brandon League.

One thing was wasn’t fun to watch was the defensive play of Mariners’ shortstop Brendan Ryan. His 2 errors in the 2nd inning resulted in both Indians runs on the night, and cost starter Jason Vargas the win. Plus the extra pitches Vargas had to throw that inning cost Vagas an inning’s worth of work, forcing the M’s to use an extra reliever that they’d have preferred to have saved leading into today’s double header that will feature 2 rookie starters.

Ryan also missed a play in the 9th inning on a ball that went right under his glove. That ultimately didn’t cost the Mariners a run, but it did cost Seattle closer Brandon League another 9 pitches. That doesn’t sound like much, but with a double header today, and a day gave tomorrow, League is now likely going to be only available in 1 of those 3 games. Had Ryan made that play, League would likely have been available for 1 game today, and still been available on Wednesday if needed.

None of the plays Ryan missed would be called “routine.” Perhaps I’m simply spoiled having watched him play brilliant defense all season. In fact, before last night, I thought that a Brandan Ryan Gold Glove was certainly not out of the question. In fact, even after last night’s game, it’s still not out of the question.

I know that the Gold Glove awards are more about reputation than actual on-field play, but I still think it’s meaningful to consider the defensive statistics:

Here are the all the shortstops in the AL that currently have a positive UZR. I’ve included but the new metrics as well as the old-school stats so you can consider both if you choose to.

The 25 errors should automatically eliminate Elvis Andrus from consideration. Say what you want about errors not telling enough of the story about the plays, but 25 is still way too many. Yunel Escobar‘s paltry 2.2 UZR removes him from contention in my mind as well. Jhonny Peralta and Erick Aybar both have few errors, but their Defensive Runs Saved and low UZR numbers suggest that both simply don’t get to as many balls as the other players on the list, which is hardly gold glove worthy.

That leave this as a 3 player race. Ryan has the lead in DRS, errors and using RZR (revised zone rating, which includes out of zone plays to a larger degree that UZR) Alecel Ramirez has a sizable UZR lead, and Alcides Escobar has turned more DP, and has had many more chances than Ryan and Ramirez, leading to an advantage in terms of fielding percentage.

I still think Ryan has a shot to win the award, but as I said above, Gold Gloves usually have very little to do with on field play. There’s also a chance it goes to Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera due to the fact that he’s hit 20 HR, even though his defensive stats are quite poor across the board.