Back in May, when the AL West was more or less an even playing field, and Mariners fans had little to complain about, I used to keep a short list of players who got on my nerves. It was always a toss-up between Miguel Olivo and Chone Figgins, depending on who made the lineup that day, but Brendan Ryan was indisputably inked at the top of the list.
Perhaps my annoyance sprung from his sagging batting average, a mere .207 in 96 PA. Or, more likely, my distaste was fueled by a penchant for basing my support and appreciation of a player on offensive production alone.
Sometime around the All-Star break, I read this. Then, this. And I discovered, in the shadow of the Mariners’ ever-plummeting record, that Brendan Ryan wasn’t just a good defensive shortstop. He was—is—the best defensive shortstop.
Let’s look at the numbers, because unlike me, they don’t show favoritism.
In 2012, Brendan Ryan holds a WAR of 1.9, tied 8th in MLB with Derek Jeter and Zack Cozart, and tied 5th with Jeter in the American League. With a .991 fielding percentage, the second highest in the NL, Ryan carries just 4 fielding errors in 432 chances and 96 starts. Digging a little further, he also leads the majors in UZR (14.8) and DRS (25).
Compared with a handful of MLB’s top shortstops, the aforementioned J.J. Hardy, Elvis Andrus, and Yunel Escobar, Brendan Ryan comes out on top in every category but WAR, likely due to his anemic batting average.
Ryan: 1.9 WAR, 14.8 UZR, 25 DRS, .991 FP, 74 DP
Hardy: 1.1 WAR, 5.6 UZR, 14 DRS, .991 FP, 74 DP
Andrus: 4.1 WAR, 7.9 UZR, 3 DRS, .979 FP, 61 DP
Escobar: 1.7 WAR, 10.0 UZR, 18 DRS, .983 FP, 71 DP
Of course, this isn’t groundbreaking news. Over his last full four seasons, Ryan’s defense has cracked the list of the top ten shortstops in MLB each year. In 2011, he finished first in the AL with a .974 FP, and first in MLB with 18 DRS—4 more than Houston’s Clint Barmes. 2010 saw a UZR of 11.5, which was also good enough to top the MLB leaderboard, just a hair above Chicago’s Alexei Ramirez (10.8). And, in 2009, Ryan marked his first full MLB season at short with 22 DRS and 7.2 UZR, both of which put him at the top of NL shortstops.
While numbers don’t lie, you don’t have to look at charts to witness Brendan’s incredible defensive prowess. There’s the way he converts line drives into outs. There’s the way he turns anything into an out. There’s the fact that in the week or so he sat out with an elbow injury, the Mariners only turned one double play. In fact, if you closed your eyes during his at-bats, you could even call him one of the best current Mariners.
As this season starts to wind down (or gear up, for those whose teams remain in contention), there are few things that will propel Mariners fandom. Brendan Ryan, I’m pleased to say, is one of them.