Shortstop Ryan a hit with glove

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.comFebruary 5, 2013 

Brendan Ryan said he thinks there’s more to him as a shortstop than just defense. Of course, Ryan’s defense is on a best-in-the-league level.

Yet, as good as he is with the glove, it’s hard to overlook an everyday player hitting under .200.

Ryan doesn’t think a .194 batting average is acceptable, either. Going into 2013 season, he plans to bring some production to the plate while maintaining his Gold Glove-level defense at shortstop.

“If you throw in some offense with it, I’d like to think you have a pretty good player,” he said.

THE PAST

There really is no way to make Ryan’s offensive numbers in 2012 sound decent. Of players with at least 450 plate appearances, Ryan registered the lowest batting average in all of baseball at .194 (79 hits in 407 at-bats). His .278 slugging percentage was also the lowest, while his .277 on-base percentage was third worst.

Going 1-for-32 over an 11-game stretch in April and May didn’t help. Ryan’s batting averaged had dipped to .125 on May 2 – 26 games into the season.

“Any time you talk about someone who struggled the way I did, you are talking about confidence,” Ryan said. “It’s tough to go up there and fake it. You know the swing isn’t where you want it and it’s major league pitching, so it’s difficult to begin with.”

Despite his issues at the plate, Ryan remained in the lineup Part of that was the lack of a credible shortstop in the organization to replace him. Munenori Kawasaki, the team’s utility infielder, was just as suspect at the plate.

It was also a testament to Ryan’s defensive skills.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge has called Ryan the best defensive shortstop he’s seen since managing Omar Vizquel in Cleveland.

The numbers bear it out.

Ryan led all shortstops in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), a sabermetric stat used to gauge a player’s value on defense. Ryan’s 14.7 represents the number of runs he subtracted from opponents in 2012.

Projected to 150 games (Ryan played in 134), he would have had a UZR/150 score of 17.1 – best among big league shortstops.

Another sabermetric stat – Defensive Wins Above Replacement – makes Ryan’s defense worth 3.6 wins to the Mariners, the best mark in the majors last season.

By more traditional measures, Ryan committed nine errors – third fewest among big league shortstops. He also turned 102 doubles plays as a shortstop, second most in the majors.

Ryan led all shortstops in the Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) with 27.

For his efforts, he received a Fielding Bible award at shortstop. The award is voted by a panel of baseball experts based solely on defensive prowess. Ryan was one of three Gold Glove award finalists at shortstop, but did not win the award.

“It’s definitely ironic that you win that and not the other,” he said.

Fans who watch postgame highlight shows have seen it on a nightly basis. Ryan not only makes routine plays, he has a flair for making the most difficult plays look routine.

“It seems like the right people have noticed and have seen what I can do out there,” he said.

THE PRESENT

Ryan heads into spring training as the team’s everyday shortstop. There is a belief that Ryan will have a bounce-back year at the plate. Neither the Mariners nor Ryan expect there to be a repeat of last season.

“That was bottom,” he said. “It can only go up from there.”

The day after the 2012 season ended, Ryan had surgery on his throwing elbow to remove a bone spur. A year ago, discomfort in the elbow hampered him in offseason workouts and spring training drills.

This offseason there have been no such issues.

“I’m going into spring training in a much better place than I was in the last few years,” Ryan said.

Of course, hitting is the key. Can he become the hitter he was in 2009 with St. Louis (.292 in 390 at-bats) or even in 2011 with the Mariners (.248 in 494 at-bats)? The team isn’t asking for .280. They’d take .240.

How does he do that?

Ryan talked about taking a small-ball approach, saying he got caught up in trying to drive the ball for extra-base hits.

“I need to be more scrappy and more willing to hit the ball on the ground and live with what happens after that,” he said. “If I’m hitting hard ground balls and line drives, the rest will take care of itself. I’ve gotten away from who I am. I need to get on base more. I’d like to steal more bases, too. But it’s hard to do that when you can’t steal first base.”

Kawasaki won’t be back, so the Mariners traded with Baltimore for Robert Andino to fill the utility infielder role. He has 134 games of shortstop experience in the major, and told Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik he thinks he could be an everyday shortstop. Wedge will give him the chance to compete.

He’s a step down defensively from Ryan, but Andino has more power. He hit seven homers while batting .211 last season. He also struck out 100 times in 438 plate appearances.

THE FUTURE

What was supposed to be a bright future for the Mariners at shortstop might still turn out that way.

But fans eager to see Nick Franklin start the season at shortstop will be disappointed, though he remains an important player in the minors.

After he demolished Double-A pitching early last season – .322 with 17 doubles, four homers and 26 RBI in 57 games with the Jackson Generals – he was promoted to Triple A Tacoma where success was tougher. He hit .240 with seven homers and 39 RBI in 64 games with the Rainiers. His on-base and slugging percentages dipped.

Franklin is likely to split time in Tacoma this season with Carlos Triunfel, another former Mariners shortstop of the future.

Don’t count out Triunfel, 23, who seems to have been around a long time only because he’s been in the Seattle farm system since he was 16.

Triunfel committed 30 errors last season with the Rainiers, and he was undisciplined at the plate with 89 strikeouts in 496 plate appearances. But he did hit .260 with 31 doubles, 10 homers and 62 RBI.

Another player to watch is Brad Miller. A second-round draft pick in 2011 out of Clemson, he put up astounding numbers in hitter-friendly High Desert last year: a .339 batting average with 33 doubles, 11 homers and 52 RBI in 97 games. In 40 games at Double-A Jackson, he hit .320 with seven doubles, four homers and 12 RBI.

In the field, he committed 31 errors with High Desert and five with Jackson.

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish

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