clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Brendan Ryan primer for curious Yankee fans

The Yankees just traded for a player they won't be able to use in the playoffs if they get there. What's his story?


Tuesday night, the Yankees traded for Brendan Ryan. They'll use the defensive whiz to replace Derek Jeter at short, which is kind of like replacing Tim Wakefield at closer with Aroldis Chapman. Minds will be blown.

You're probably in the mood for some hot analysis about this big-time deal. Sorry. Some grabby jerk over at Grantland hogged it all. Ben Lindbergh broke down exactly how Derek Jeter costs the Yankees runs, and to illustrate his point, he directly compared Jeter with Ryan. It was a brilliant piece before the trade; the apparent prescience makes it the only thing you need to read about the trade.

But if you're a Yankees fan, and you're not entirely sure what the Yankees just did, or what they just acquired, allow me to present a short primer of Brendan Ryan for the Yankees fan who is unfamiliar with his résumé.

Brendan Ryan is better than …

Since Ryan came into the league, he has accumulated about 16 wins, according to Here are players who rank below Ryan in WAR since 2007:

Paul Konerko
Billy Butler
Nelson Cruz
Rickie Weeks
Michael Cuddyer
Michael Young
A.J. Pierzynski
Alfonso Soriano
Miguel Montero
Edwin Encarnacion
Jay Bruce

That list is truncated, of course. There are all sorts of familiar names below Ryan. You can take this in several ways. One is that WAR is a junk stat because it doesn't line up with your preconceived notions. Another is that Ryan is a defensive wizard. The truth is probably much closer to the latter, but if you're looking for a way to be skeptical about WAR, Ryan is a great place to start. How can a hitter that bad be so valuable?

It'll keep you up at night until you see it firsthand. It makes sense. You just have to be there, so to speak.

Brendan Ryan is good at defense

That's kind of a repeat of the last point, but we're talking historically good. Here are the players with three different seasons with three or more defensive wins:

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Mark Belanger 7 1968 1978 24-34 Ind. Seasons
2 Ozzie Smith 5 1980 1989 25-34 Ind. Seasons
3 Art Fletcher 5 1915 1919 30-34 Ind. Seasons
4 Cal Ripken 4 1984 1991 23-30 Ind. Seasons
5 Joe Tinker 4 1905 1909 24-28 Ind. Seasons
6 Brendan Ryan 3 2009 2012 27-30 Ind. Seasons
7 Ozzie Guillen 3 1986 1988 22-24 Ind. Seasons
8 Ed Brinkman 3 1966 1970 24-28 Ind. Seasons
9 Marty Marion 3 1943 1946 25-28 Ind. Seasons
10 Lou Boudreau 3 1943 1948 25-30 Ind. Seasons
11 Bill Dahlen 3 1904 1908 34-38 Ind. Seasons

Even more impressive is that Ryan played between 129 and 141 games in those seasons -- not quite full seasons. His 2012 was one of the top 50 seasons of all time, according to dWAR.

Of course, dWAR is a hyper-precise stat to measure something that can't be measured in a hyper-precise way. Ryan was .1 better last year than Jack Wilson was in 2009. What does .1 dWAR look like? That's like cutting off a throw from center to hold a runner at first every other month. Still, the point stands. Ryan is legitimately one of the best defensive shortstops in history.

He really, really can't hit, though

If he could hit even a little, he'd be making eight figures. But he really, really can't hit. His career .238/.300/.320 line is bad. His career 72 OPS+ is bad. You have to realize, though, that those marks are buoyed by a couple of freaky-good seasons with the Cardinals. In 2009, for example, he hit .292/.340/.400, with seven triples and 14 steals. That's a Hall of Fame season when you can pick it like Ryan.

It didn't last, though. Since that year, he's hit .217/.284/.294 in 1,737 plate appearances.

Part of that has to do with Seattle and Safeco Field. A much larger part of that has to do with him not hitting well relative to his peers. But let's help Ryan out and see what his numbers might have looked like in 2000 Coors Field.


Ah, much better. Though still not that good. Surprisingly unimpressive! At least I didn't give him the '68 Dodgers treatment:


Because that would be ugly.

He has a magic mustache, but people were getting suspicious

His performance (by OPS+) matched with his facial hair:


If people figured this out, they'd want the mustache for themselves. And while I might have fudged the timeline a little, the causation and correlation are undeniable.

If you needed to know who Brendan Ryan is, Yankees fans, there you go. Mozart in the field. Meatloaf at the plate. Magnum P.I. on the face, but only when he wants to hit. The only other thing you need to know? This is going to somehow work out for the Yankees because they are undead and terrifying.

For more on the Brendan Ryan trade, please visit SB Nation's Pinstriped Bible.

More from Baseball Nation:

Are the Dodgers signing another Cuban star?

Should Coors Field cost Clayton Kershaw his Cy Young Award?

Where’s baseball’s Chip Kelly?

The Mariners get hosed by the schedule makers yet again

Which organization is the best in baseball?