Sometimes I don't think I'm a very good baseball blogger because I write about whatever the hell I want to write about, instead of what I know people might wish for me to write about. Sometimes there's overlap, obviously, but sometimes there are times like this, where Howard Lincoln has granted a condescending interview regarding the Seattle Arena proposal and I'm writing a post in the middle of October about Brendan Ryan. Way more people are interested in the ' stance on the arena, and way more people want to just be mad at the Mariners about it, but, Brendan Ryan. If you want my opinion on the Mariners' opinion of the arena, it's "you should probably do a better job of expressing your opinion so people don't hate you so much."
Now, when I was first thinking about this post, I got the idea to go through a bunch of Brendan Ryan defensive highlights. What I was going to do then was take screenshots of his range -- that is, I'd present screenshots of plays made way to his left, and screenshots of plays made way to his right. We've seen Ryan make plays on the other side of second base, and we've seen Ryan make plays practically behind Kyle Seager. The guy has phenomenal range, and the arm strength and accuracy to turn it into a real asset.
But I abandoned that approach after I went to the numbers. It's unquestionably true that Brendan Ryan has better range than almost any other shortstop in baseball, and that's a big part of what makes him so successful, but I stumbled upon something else as I was flipping through FanGraphs leaderboards. Think about all the things that might make a defensive shortstop a good defensive shortstop. We're talking about good instincts, a good first step, good lateral range, quick hands, a strong arm, an accurate arm -- this is all obvious stuff. Something that gets kind of ignored, though, is a shortstop's ability to participate in double plays. There's a skill to that, and not everybody has it. Brendan Ryan has it.
Ryan became a regular big-league shortstop in 2009. Since 2009, 50 different players have played at least 1,000 innings at short. Ryan has averaged 80 double plays per 1,000 innings, which is the second-highest mark in the group. The only guy higher is John McDonald, at 85, and McDonald is considered an outstanding defensive infielder. The league average is about 65 double plays per 1,000 innings.
But, okay, we can do better than raw double-play rate, since that's an imperfect statistic biased by opportunities. Both UZR and Defensive Runs Saved include a Double Plays component. By one measure, out of that group of 50 shortstops, Ryan has been the best double-play shortstop in baseball. By the other measure, out of that group of 50 shortstops, Ryan has been the best double-play shortstop in baseball. DRS and UZR agree -- there hasn't been anyone better at turning double plays than Brendan Ryan over the past few seasons.
It's an under-appreciated skill, and, in fairness, it's a less significant skill than some of the others. Given a choice between only the two, I'd rather have a rangey shortstop who sucks at double plays than a more stationary shortstop who's awesome at double plays. But we don't have to make that choice with Brendan Ryan, because he's terrific across the board. Everybody knows he's got outstanding range and a fantastic arm. People might not have known how good he's been at double plays. It's part of what makes him a deserving Gold Glover.
He's a super double play in which Brendan Ryan was involved. Here's another. Here are .gifs.
Seldom is a double play all because of one guy, but one guy can definitely screw up a double play, and Brendan Ryan doesn't really do that very often. The man knows outs, and he knows where to find them. He definitely knows where to find them at the plate, and he also definitely knows where to find them in the field. In the field, they're usually somewhere nearby.
Brendan Ryan really can't hit. It's too bad. It would be great if the Mariners players were better than they are. But Brendan Ryan is also almost unbelievable at something. He plays the sort of great defense that leaves you thinking "wow, that was great defense!", and now we all better understand the role double plays play in that. If there exists a double-play opportunity, you've got better odds of pulling it off with Brendan Ryan than you do with anyone else. Bully for the Mariners.