BOSTON — Mariners beat writer Ryan Divish of The News Tribune recently wrote a piece for Baseball Prospectus about Seattle shortstop Brendan Ryan’s wizardry as a defender.
“It’s difficult to comprehend the number of brilliant defensive plays that Brendan Ryan has made in his tenure as the Seattle Mariners’ starting shortstop,” Divish wrote. “There are too many to count.”
Ryan is a defensive maestro, but there’s one problem ... the 31-year-old has never hit well and he entered yesterday’s game vs. the Red Sox here at Fenway with a .191 average and .254 on-base percentage this season.
Taking into account Ryan’s overall game and how Red Sox defensive wiz Jose Iglesias’ batting average is declining by the game, it’s interesting to weigh the value of a weak-hitting shortstop who can play Gold Glove level defense.
Can the Red Sox deal with Iglesias’ possible sub-par offensive production in exchange for his superb defense?Can Ryan and Iglesias have the same type of impact on a game with their glove that Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera has with his bat? Is Iglesias a Ryan clone?
Iglesias entered yesterday hitting .330 with a .377 on-base percentage but with just a .200 average and .244 OBP in 80 at-bats in July.
Before delving into the above questions, it should be noted Ryan is quite impressed with Iglesias’ defense. Iglesias has played mostly third base this summer with veteran shortstop Stephen Drew signed to a one-year contract. But Iglesias undoubtedly has the ability to be a Gold Glove shortstop in the coming years.
“He seems pretty aggressive, which I like,” Ryan said about Iglesias. “Obviously, he’s got good hands. I’ve seen him play a little bit more third and I’ve seen him play (more) on TV. It’s always a little bit easier to watch in person. But he made some nice plays at our place (Safeco Field). He’s got good feet and he’s confident and aggressive.”
Ryan also mentioned Iglesias’ quick releases on throws.
“He probably really doesn’t close the glove unless it’s to a backhand or something like that,” Ryan said. “The ball is in-and-out of the glove like you want it.”
Is it worth keeping Iglesias in the everyday lineup if he’s not hitting?
“You can make the argument that it’s a little bit tougher if he’s playing a corner spot like third,” Ryan said. “You probably need some production offensively there. But from short, if you’re saving runs and taking hits away, you’re abbreviating innings. That goes a long way. You can be a pitcher’s best friend back there.
“Yeah, it’s no fun going through slumps (offensively),” Ryan added. “But depending on who’s pitching you can take more hits away than you can get that day.”
Ryan believes a terrific defender routinely can impact the game as much as a terrific hitter.
“It’s kind of like a ballet out there depending on the count and the situation, who’s up, who’s pitching, what kind of action (the pitcher) has got on his stuff, and playing accordingly,” Ryan said. “Just trying to put ourselves in the way of the baseball.”
In his article, Divish discussed specific plays this season that Ryan has made to save runs in tight situations. He wrote: “I watched Ryan, who was playing in on the grass with the bases loaded and one out in a 9-9 game in the bottom of the eighth inning, make a brilliant diving stop on a Howie Kendrick smash to his right. From his knees, Ryan made an off-balance throw to get Mike Trout—yes, the Mike Trout—at home on a force play.”
Ryan said, “Making a solid play out there — that can change the momentum of the game. You come into the dugout and everyone has a bounce in their step, (saying), ‘Something good’s going to happen. We just saved a big inning there.’ It can create momentum out there.”
Obviously there is an offensive minimum that the Red Sox expect from Iglesias to justify him being in the lineup every day or else Drew would never have been signed here.
Maybe that minimum is equal to about what Ryan has given his teams offensively throughout the years, although Iglesias, who singled off the Green Monster in his first at-bat yesterday, does seem to be a little bit better hitter than Ryan.
Ryan’s career average is .238 and his career OBP is .301.
Iglesias being in the lineup every day seems justifiable if he could give the Red Sox a .240-.250 average and produce a .300-.310 OBP year-in and year-out while giving them exceptional defense at shortstop.
Iglesias has been benefitted greatly by a high batting average (.388) for balls in play this year just like Will Middlebrooks was last year. In other words, the balls Iglesias has hit have found plenty of holes. But things are finally evening out for him and pitchers are justing.
“He’s been attacked early and often in the strike zone,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said about Iglesias.
If the Red Sox have a solid lineup 1 through 8 and Iglesias is playing defense as Ryan’s level, he’s worth it.
“The idea is to almost be like you’re shooting free throws where you can do it eyes-closed,” Ryan said about defense.