Last night, Brendan Ryan started for theat shortstop, as he has most nights, since his defense is good and his backup is bad. He finished 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk. It's unusual for Ryan to strike out three times in a game, but it's not unusual for Ryan to make three outs in a game. It was good of Ryan to reach base once; unsurprisingly, he did not get a hit.
There was about a month this season when Ryan looked like a half-decent hitter. In July, he hit .288, and in no other month has he hit higher than .207. Of course Ryan hasn't really looked like a different hitter at any point, and sometimes the balls fall in and sometimes they don't. When Ryan was getting his hits, we knew it was unsustainable. We also knew it was kind of making up for some hits he didn't get before. There's no one out there who views Brendan Ryan as an offensive threat.
My sense is that people are getting increasingly frustrated with Ryan's lackluster bat. And he has hit a good deal worse than he did last season, although it's mostly just BABIP. Here, for your convenience, are Brendan Ryan's last four BABIPs:
Lots of bouncing around, and the fact that Ryan rebounded from 2010 suggests he could rebound from 2012. But he wouldn't rebound to being good, because Ryan isn't a good hitter. He's a below-average hitter who's in the lineup all the time because of his defense, and even last season when Ryan hit better plenty of people felt like he didn't do enough.
We all know that Ryan is an outstanding defensive shortstop, and he's not even quietly great, in the way that Bobby Abreu was a quietly great hitter once upon a time. Ryan is conspicuously great, as it seems like at least once a game he manages to do something few other players could do. Some of the defensive numbers suggest that, even this season, with no bat at all, Ryan has been a positive contributor, because of his value in the field. Many are skeptical, as they reflect on memories of Ryan popping out in every other plate appearance, but the numbers are what the numbers are.
And it turns out the numbers are very much like the numbers of a Mariners shortstop in the past. I'm presumably not the first person to point this out, but the Mariners' version of Brendan Ryan is, statistically, a dead ringer for the Mariners' version of Omar Vizquel, between 1989-1993.
A selection of stats:
Ryan, with Mariners: .223/.300/.302
Vizquel, with Mariners: .252/.309/.303
Ryan, with Mariners: 72 wRC+
Vizquel, with Mariners: 70 wRC+
Ryan, with Mariners: 2.5 WAR/600 plate appearances
Vizquel, with Mariners: 2.6 WAR/600 plate appearances
Immediately, you might note that, when Vizquel was a regular, less was expected of shortstops. During those five years, shortstops averaged an 83 wRC+. Over the last two years, shortstops have averaged an 87 wRC+, which isn't much higher. Adjusting for both league and ballpark, Vizquel played in a more favorable offensive environment. And really, you don't need to look further than the WAR. If you believe in the defensive numbers -- which you don't have to -- Ryan and Vizquel are practically twinsies. They're below-average bats with above-average defense, coming out as roughly average players.
Vizquel, it seems, is remembered rather fondly, while Ryan is considered likable but frustrating. These are basically just guesses, subjective opinions of mine that might be completely off-base. But if they're accurate, maybe one of the reasons is that Vizquel hit for a higher average. He also rarely struck out, so he was frequently "making the defense make a play." Also, now people have seen the Mariners in the playoffs, and they'd really like for the Mariners to get back to them. There were zero expectations for the Mariners in the Vizquel days so maybe people simply settled for less. It probably helped that Vizquel was a product of the Mariners' system.
Ryan is 30 years old. Vizquel was 21 when he debuted, and he was 26 when he was traded. Vizquel has had a great career, a potential Hall-of-Fame career, and I'm not trying to argue in any way that Ryan's career matches up. Vizquel also grew to become better at hitting and somehow hit 14 home runs in 2002 in what is to this day one of sports' greatest miracles. But Ryan's career as a Mariner has looked an awful lot like a shorter version of Vizquel's career as a Mariner, and people liked and like Omar Vizquel. Vizquel got dealt in December 1993. Nearly two decades later, the Mariners are employing a whiter, hairier, less-attentive twin.
It's fine to look ahead to the days of Nick Franklin at shortstop, if Franklin sticks at shortstop and if Franklin is good. The Mariners are also not desperate for a shortstop today. The one they have could be better, but he could also be a whole hell of a lot worse.