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Brendan Ryan Isn't Going To Hit

Back in January 2005, the Mariners signed an all-glove free agent infielder to hold down the shortstop position until someone like Mike Morse or Yuniesky Betancourt was ready to take it over. All available evidence said that his glove was among the best in the league, and while there was less to go on then than there is to go on now, nobody doubted it. Everyone was quite confident that he'd be able to make a significant contribution in the field.

The issue was his offense. Over his previous ~400 trips to the plate, he'd batted just .219 with four home runs. There was reason to believe his true talent numbers were better than that, given his previous performance, but nothing in his career suggested that he'd make much of a positive impact. And so the player's acquisition was controversial from the start. There were arguments that his defense would make up for his offense, and there were arguments that his offense was too poor for the overall package to be acceptable. This was back when defensive valuation was still brand new, and for weeks upon weeks, debate raged on.

Ultimately, Pokey Reese never got into more than a commercial, his Mariner career lasting exactly zero at bats. So we can't say how people would've felt about him during the year. But there's a reason I bring this up:

Pokey Reese, career: .248/.307/.352
Brendan Ryan, career: .259/.314/.344

Like Reese, Ryan offers one of the better gloves in the league. And, like Reese, Ryan is coming off a poor performance. Over about 400 trips to the plate between 2003-2004, Reese batted .219 with a .271 OBP. Over about 500 trips to the plate in 2010, Ryan batted .223 with a .279 OBP. Ryan struggled after wrist surgery, while Reese struggled after hand surgery.

Ryan and Reese are the same sort of player. Ryan's a little younger than Reese was, and his responsibilities look a little different, so this isn't the same exact situation. But it is strikingly similar.

Don't be fooled by Ryan's high average a year ago, either. Even Pokey Reese batted .285 in 1999. It was inflated. You know what Brendan Ryan's numbers look like in AAA? I'll show you.


That's only a sample of just under 500 plate appearances, but if you combine it with what he's done in the bigs, then you end up with about 1800 plate appearances of pretty lousy hitting. Pretty lousy hitting against the two highest levels of competition. That's meaningful. That very strongly suggests that he's a pretty lousy hitter.

And that's fine. We don't expect Brendan Ryan to hit. We know he doesn't have great bat control, or a gifted eye, or tremendous power. We understand the argument that his game is based on defense, and we understand - better now than we used to - that his defensive ability can make up for his shortcomings at the plate.

But while a lot of people like the Ryan move now, I do wonder how they're going to respond when the season gets going and they actually see for themselves how limited he really is. You can tell yourself that people rarely get attacked by bears or giant spiders, but that doesn't make nightfall in the forest less terrifying. You can explain to yourself that Brendan Ryan projects as a decent player, but that doesn't make the experience more pleasant.

This is like the converse of Richie Sexson. With Sexson, we had a good idea that the M's made a mistake, but his dingers were so fun to watch. We have a good idea now that the M's got better, but Ryan's bat could be miserable, and dreaded in the way that I used to dread watching Dan Wilson earlier in the decade. Feelings aren't always the same in theory and practice.

This is a post about feelings, and I'm curious to see how people feel about Brendan Ryan once he starts getting into the lineup. There's a chance he gets lucky and posts another inflated batting average, rendering all of this moot. There's also a chance that even Brendan Ryan's bat looks like a godsend after what we all went through last season, and that we'll be happy with anything. Who even knows where our standards are anymore? But Ryan's essentially the same hitter as Willie Bloomquist, and I remember how people felt about Willie Bloomquist. People on the internet, anyway.

What's encouraging is that a lot of the people at Viva El Birdos seem to have loved him, so that's a good sign. Hopefully Ryan's able to win us all over with his hustle and wizardly in the field. But my advice - my advice is to give this one time. Wait until you see him before you decide on how you feel. Math is math, but you can never be sure how you'll respond to a limited hitter, and no one wants to end up with a shirsey they regret.