After meeting with both players in his office this morning, Eric Wedge announced today that Robert Andino had earned the starting shortstop position, and Brendan Ryan would be sharing time. Ryan was hitting .143/.210/.143, without a single extra-base hit in 56 plate appearances. His usurper, Andino, is hitting .161/.188/.226, with an equal number of home runs but with infinity times as many doubles.
But these are small sample sizes! After all, both players have been around a while. Let’s compare their career numbers:
Andino: .233/.294/.321, 1415 PA
Ryan: .241/.303/.322, 2359 PA
Andino and Ryan are essentially the same hitter, but this is where the comparison ends. Ryan is an amazing defensive shortstop, one of the best in baseball, whereas Andino is amazingly average. In fact, Andino’s foremost strength as a player, his versatility, is the one thing eliminated by his conversion to starting shortstop. Ryan’s glove, the only skill worth anything between the two of them, is exiled to the bench. And when some of those grounders roll through the gap and up the middle, it’ll be the pitchers who take the blame.
The only difficulty in assigning Robert Andino, Starting Shortstop as the grinning mascot of the 2013 Seattle Mariners is that the team has so many already: Raul Ibanez, Starting Left Fielder is an example, as is Jesus Montero, Trying to Run Anywhere. Process and result are beginning to melt together in some horrific event horizon, where nothing makes sense. And it’s my job to explain how the Brendan Ryan demotion makes perfect sense. The Brendan Ryan demotion makes perfect sense.
I promise to avoid turning this article into a scathing attack on capitalism, which is a benevolent force that feeds and clothes us and at least turns all the wolves on each other. But even the most ardent proponent of the free market would be forced to admit that the interests of the corporation and the interests of the people who comprise it are not always perfectly aligned.
Consider, for example, the plight of one Eric Wedge. Eric Wedge has been a baseball manager for 1,480 games and has won 48% of them. The luster of his early-career awards has worn off, and he is treading dangerously close to Jim Riggleman Territory. Eric Wedge does not want to end up like Jim Riggleman. If Eric Wedge really is Jim Riggleman, however, he certainly doesn’t want his employers to know this. Eric Wedge is a rational creature: he, like all other human beings (so we want to believe), acts out of self-interest. He wants to keep his job. This results in quotes like this:
"You can’t expect change by doing the same thing every day. You’ve got to change your habits."
Wedge is speaking about Brendan Ryan in this case, but he is essentially talking about himself. If we think of Wedge’s career as Mariners manager as a single game chart, his win expectancy has nearly flatlined. At this point, doing things that incrementally improve the team are no longer enough. Instead, all he can hope for are dramatic moves that resonate with True Leadership, some evidence that he has some control over his own destiny. Certainly, it might have looked better if he had some untested youths to turn to in the face of these demotions, but they’re the ones being demoted. One works with what one has, even if one has veterans with no upside.
The other element to consider here, one tied closely to our love of capitalism, is the Protestant work ethic. Simply put, Americans like to believe that hard work returns good results. This is fine, except that it logically follows that poor results betray laziness. We know, statistically speaking, that Ryan's BABIP is a hundred points below his career average. But how would we react, instinctively, if he told the media that his failures weren't his fault at all, and that he didn't need to change anything?
We want to have causes for the things that happen to us, in baseball and in real life. We want to believe that things can be fixed, and it follows that if they can, they should be. We and Eric Wedge have to punish Brendan Ryan because the alternative is chaos.
The sad thing is that, in the case of Brendan Ryan, we can expect change by doing the same thing as usual. We know Brendan Ryan by now; we know what usual is, and we know that these three weeks in April haven’t been it. We know what the alternatives are. And we know that Eric Wedge desperately needs to construct a narrative, whether it involves Andino or a reinvigorated Ryan, that paints him as a capable manager. The result: deck chairs scattered everywhere, upturned, rusting slowly.