M's Gloves - the Brendan Ryan Factor


Q.  Is Ryan's glove as good as they say it is?

A.  Looks like it to me, yes.  (More to the point, there is some new public info on his defense that explains the whole Brendan Ryan phenomenon...)

Every defensive metric (that I've seen) shows Ryan as much better than other major league shortstops.  That's a daunting standard.  Normal human beings cannot play cornerback in the NFL, striker in the Premier League, or shortstop in MLB.  Rafael Furcal, when he came up, was referred to 9,000 times as "a waterbug with a cannon."  Nowadays that's minimum daily requirement.


Q.  Does that make him a +10 runs defender?  +15?  +20?

A.  I'd pay him for +15 runs, hard on the barrelhead - if I thought he could stay on the field for 130+ games.  Since that's what he's played, the last three years - 129, 139, 123 - I guess I'd pay him?

UZR allows him +11 runs per 150 games.  John Dewan just forecast him for +16 runs saved, based on a partial season.  The scout's eye, if SSI has any of those laying about the laboratory, cheerfully agrees.

Hey, if there's any such thing as a guy you're going to pay for +15 runs with the mitt, here's exhibit A.


Q.  Jack Wilson looked better.

A.  Jack Wilson was definitely more fun to watch.  Of course, Blake Griffin is much more fun to watch than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was.

At BJOL, John Dewan partners with James online, and there's been an investigation of several topical defensive themes around the league.  One of the great things they've discovered is what separates the great shortstops from the lesser ones.  

Dewan's metrics have shown that the biggest differences between shortstops are the ones going into the 3B hole.  Dewan found that going to their lefts, that is, up the middle, the best (Ryan) and worst (Jeter) shortstops in the league both make about 65% of plays....

... however, on balls hit into the 3B hole, the differences are vast:

Feet to R Ryan Jeter ML avg
1-7 86% 73 82
8-14 78 40 61
15-21 56 16 34
22-28 13 0 8

Think about that for a second.  The right hand hitter bops one past the diving 3B.  Ryan (and Jeter) take off:  the ball is 6 steps to their rights.  Ryan will probably make the play, and Jeter is a 1-in-6 long shot to make the same play?  These two players are in the same baseball league?

Think about this for another second:  When Derek Jeter does get to it, and take that leap into the air, and loop the ball across the diamond, he's going to be on SportsCenter... this play in the hole is "Jeteresque."


Q.  Does Dr. D, intuitively, buy this new insight into baseball?

A.  Every blinkin' inch, man.

Plays up the middle, the SS flopping on his belly and then DESperately doing a kung-fu hop to his feet, madly twisting his head skyward as he fires to first.... that's fun to watch.  How often does it happen?  Nada.  Twice a year, it seems like.  Whatever.

But that play in the hole, that's a stealth play.  The SS doesn't make it, you go, "well, sure."  The SS does make it, you go, "That's a big league play."  But do you ever tally up, keep track of, which guys are doing it?  I don't.

That one guy could do it 6 times in 10, vs. another guy doing it 4 times in 10, I'll buy that.  Lock, stock and barrel, just sell me a new grizzly rifle why don'cha.  I just never noticed it before, not so clearly as to keep track of it.  

It's like groundball percentage for a pitcher.  You wonder why you never focused on the deep SS/3B hole before.  Well, you know.  It's simplification.  You cancel the fractions on the play up the middle, and now the long 6-3 assist comes into razor focus.


Q.  So Ryan is a glove-first player who gets SSI's signoff?

A.  Sure.  We remember John Hart basing a defense on ONLY a defensive shortstop.  Albert Belle in LF, Jim Thome at 3B, Carlos Baerga at 2B, yada yada yada .... bat-first players everywhere, and Omar Vizquel glued the entire defense all by himself.

My Big Red Machine in the 1970's, that team had two guys who couldn't hit much.  SS and CF.

SSI doesn't believe in Casey Kotchman at 1B, Endy Chavez at LF and four other "value" glove players in the same lineup.  SSI do believe, d'oh, in the great defensive shortstop.


Q.  Anything else?

A.  This is the exactly the kind of stat that ML orgs, with their proprietary research, keep hush-hush.  You can assume the M's have been aware of this since they signed Brendan Ryan, though I have not.  Been aware of it, that is.

With Paxton and Hultzen coming up, you can see where Brendan Ryan would tag-team those two out pretty good.  Two star groundball lefties, combo'ed with baseball's best SS at the long throw across ... well, sure.




ghost's picture

TFB is basing their projections on running three-year +/- averages.  That'll do for most players but I think trends need to be factored in as well, and their metrics can't make projections for new players like Jesus Montero (below average), Kyle Seager (average to maybe a hair above), Dustin Ackley (average to a little below), and Michael Saunders (well above average).  They also incorrectly forecasted a full healthy season fort F-Gutz...I think he gets 80 games tops this year because Saunders outhits him two to one.
My rough projections:
C) Miguel Olivo/Jesus Montero -3 (Olivo is TERRIBLE at the normal defensive stuff catchers do other than baserunners, where he is a little above average long term and getting old)
1B) Smoak/random -4
2B) Dustin Ackley -2
3B) Kyle Seager 0
SS) Brendan Ryan/Munenori Kawasaki +8 (sorry...not buying +16 for a mostly hurting Ryan even though he was good the last three years...Kawasaki is a plus defender as well, so he'll work when Ryan is out)
LF) Mike Carp / Casper Wells / Michael Saunders 0 (Saunders saves this group from a big fat -5...Wells is OK in left, but Carp is pretty short on range)
CF) Franklin Gutierrez / Michael Saunders +15
RF) Ichiro Suzuki +7
NET) +21
Above average on defense, mostly in the outfield.  BABIP will be solid (BABIP is more about outfielders than infielders, as James noted), but groundball pitchers won't get much help unless they are left handed.
But not an elite team as TFB shows.


Good stuff man.
Definitely agree that 3-year averages, even weighted, aren't at all precise.  For example, it's not like you're going to finish in the top 3 in a roto league by using 3-year weighted OPS to draft hitters.  ... you HAVE to be able to anticipate trends a lot better than that, or Taro will get all the Smoaks, Saunderses and Seagers :- )
The one big plus is that the weighted 3-year averages are totally objective - no tendency to say "well, I like Ackley to be a plus (young) defender" while overlooking possible negatives.
And TFB doesn't even weight the years, right?
No quibbles at all with your overall sense of proportion.  Am sure we'd agree that there is upside at most positions you list, the potential for better play.  Smoak, a young 1B, is seen as neutral by many metrics.  Ackley was significantly + per UZR.  Ryan could feasibly be a GG shortstop. etc.
Agree that Olivo shows as somewhat negatively in crude defensive stats, such as in framing pitches, but I wonder (a lot) whether Olivo isn't packing a -0.50 CERA factor... which, if true, would of course dwarf all of the other considerations put together ...

ghost's picture

But then...CERA isn't fielding...it's a different kind of defense. :)
This is just just eyeballing it (numbers wise)...I didn't have time to update the PCA calcs to include 2011. :)  But I would agree that I've left room for upside at most of the positions on te diamond, including, for example, third base.  If Figgins gets much PT there and plays well you might find +8 there or something.  I just think Seattle's defensive numbers are likely to be solid to good despite the apparent addition of a lot of bat-first players to the prospect pool getting PT this year because they're carrying good gloves up the middle.

Boogaholic's picture

Ryan's superiority at SS was well explained in this article. The only thing I would add is that the reason you don't see the diving flashy plays is because of how deep Ryan fields his position. There is no SS in MLB that plays at Ryan's depth. BR can play this deep because he is very good at coming in and attacking the balls that are hit softly but moreover his release at various arm slots is quicker than any other SS in the league.  Playing at his depth allows him to get to more balls in the hole and his quick release coupled with his plus arm translate into more outs and defensive runs saved. As a consequence to him fielding at his depth however, you will not see him dive after balls as much because if he can't field the ball on his feet, he cannot make the out. These same balls go right past other SS's for hits and nobody bats an eye. Ryan could play in a few steps and make all the diving stops just like A Cabrera who is a below average defender and appear on Sportscenter every night but instead plays back and exploits his best tools (release, arm, range) and plays the best defense in baseball all while flying below the radar.


If that's true - and I don't particularly doubt it - I feel sheepish at never having noticed something so obvious.  Especially since my fave seats are 3B side, third deck.
That would explain a lot.  Cal Ripken, ARod shortstops compensate with depth and big arms.  If you had a quick shortstop playing the position like Ripken played it, of course he'd be extremely effective.


You know what:  I'd never particularly noticed that Ryan had a plus-plus arm.  Sigh.
The fans hadn't either:  they give him 70's for arm, but 85's for first step and instincts.
As we're talking about it here, my appreciation for Ryan is increasing.  Looking forward to watching him this year with the new frame of reference.

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