Brendan Ryan Versus Ozzie Smith

by on December 3, 2010 · 2 comments

I usually visit the #stlcards tweets a few times a week to see what exactly the rest of the Cardinal nation tweeps have on their minds, and I frequently find someone amusing to follow in the process.  If you are interested, please feel free to check out the list of people I follow.  Occasionally, a topic or specific tweet will catch my attention with a clever hashtag or provocative idea.  As expected, this week I noticed that the topic of “Brendan Ryan” was quite popular, and I spent some time sifting through a lot of very passionate tweets until I came across a few comparisons to “Ozzie Smith“.  My initial reaction to that comparison was almost visceral.  I nearly sputtered some random expletive directed solely at my iPhone.  Then I paused.  Rather than immediately discard the comparison as some ridiculous dream of the insane, I thought I owed it to myself to at least consider why anybody would make that comparison.  When enough people are screaming that the emperor is wearing no clothes, at least 1 person should be brave enough to ask the emperor about putting on a hoodie or something.       

Since we’re probably on the verge of a Brendan Ryan trade, I thought it easiest to compare pre-trade years for both Ryan and Smith.  (Actually, I wanted to compare all of Ozzie’s years in San Diego to all of Brendan’s years in St. Louis, but I don’t have a magical stat tool that compiles such information for me.  If I did have such a tool, I’d probably break it anyway, so you’d be left wallow in ignorance right along with me.)  In Ozzie’s last year in San Diego (1981), he batted .222 with a .294 OBP, a fielding % of .976, and a 0.3 WAR.  In 2010, Brendan batted .223 with a .279 OBP, a fielding % of .975, and a 0.9 WAR.  Ozzie had much more range, and I’ll seriously contemplate having words with anyone who disputes this.  True, the comparison isn’t exactly apples-to-apples, because Ozzie was 26 that year, and Brendan was 28 in 2010.  Still, I’m sticking with the “Ozzie had much more range” argument.  He also had that really cool back handspring thing and some kickin’ hair, but Brendan has the ‘stache, so they might be even.  Anyway, there is also the whole “hitting the ball with the stick” thing to consider.  Ozzie never reached the .290 batting mark for a season until he hit .303 in 1987 which was his age 32 season.  He only topped .290 one other season (1992) when he hit .295.  Brendan hit .292 in his age 27 season in 2009, and Brendan’s .259 lifetime average is 1 point higher than Ozzie ever hit in a single season up until 1985 – his 8th season in the majors.       

Battle Barely Above The Mendoza Line

Now, I’m not saying that I would pick Brendan Ryan over Ozzie Smith.  I will go on record as saying that a choice between Ryan at 28 and Smith at 26 isn’t a complete landslide in favor of Ozzie for a single season.  It’s just that it seems that maybe some people are suffering a bit from a “recency effect” and are comparing the 1987 and/or 1992 versions of Ozzie to Ryan at 28.  In that case, the Wizard wins without even worrying about having to count the “hanging chads” in Florida.  If that’s the comparison, then that’s fine.  That’s not the comparison that I’m choosing to make though, because Ryan’s body of work is not complete.  The funny thing is even though Ozzie’s 1981 was fairly similar to Brendan’s 2010, 1981 worked out a lot better for Ozzie.  He made the All-Star game and won a Gold Glove.  As for Brendan?  He’s not even wanted by his current employer.  I’m not contending that Ryan will be the next Ozzie Smith, but based on Ozzie’s first 4 seasons, most people would not have predicted that even Ozzie would turn into the Ozzie Smith who dazzled throughout the 80’s.   

I’ve always judged Brendan Ryan against his peers.  I recall a point earlier in 2010 when some talking head on tv noted that Ryan had a +/- of +31.  To put that in perspective, Tulowitzki had a +14 at that time.  Ryan had saved his team 24 runs at that point in the season despite having played fewer than 1000 innings.  I then went on a bit of a hunt to learn more about things like the average number of innings a regular shortstop plays in a season and the average number of “chances” a shortstop may expect to have during that time.  Such numbers really didn’t apply to Ryan, because Cardinals pitchers induced ground balls at an incredibly high rate relative to their counterparts on other teams, so Ryan was able to accumulate a significant number of opportunities while playing a relatively small number of innings.  Anyway, I stumbled across Fan Scout reports here.  It’s an interesting way of evaluating players, and it’s just as subjective as most evaluation systems.  That aside, I was interested in the fact that the highest rated players on the Cardinals were Brendan Ryan and Yadier Molina who were actually rated at an average of 78.  Yadi is celebrated as possibly the best defensive catcher in the game.  Brendan is headed to parts unknown.      

Now, I’m not a Brendan Ryan fan just because he’s energetic, quirky, or has a great glove.  I believe that he can help the Cardinals win.  I’m interested in the team making smart business decisions.  If the team makes a smart business decision in letting him go, then I’m good with that as a fan.  The problem is that the logic behind this “business decision” isn’t really all that logical at all.  It seems to be based on Brendan’s personality and “fit” within the organization.  From what little I understand about baseball, “personality” doesn’t drive in runs, turn double plays, or advance the runner.  If the Cardinals trade Ryan now, then they are effectively selling low.  Considering Ryan’s stated desire to remain in St. Louis, it’s not a stretch to think that they could keep him around until late June or early July.  All he has to do is hit around .260-270 and play his usual defense, and the Cardinals will have a really good trade asset.  He’s relatively inexpensive, and the upside is relatively high as a function of that investment.  He’s motivated to rebound from 2010 and prove his doubters wrong, and he’d be a good insurance policy for David Freese at 3B.  Keep in mind that Brendan’s .223 average last year was actually higher than the .208 average that Pedro Feliz had in St. Louis at 3B.  Cheap insurance anybody?  It probably won’t happen, because bigger egos and hotter heads will certainly prevail.  It’s too bad, because it sure would be interesting to see what happens, if the Cardinals keep Brendan around for at least the next 7 months.

Cardinals fan since I could hold a fishing pole steady. Accidental blogger. Opinionated. I could care less about what you think of me. Constantly confounded, bemused, and confuzzled (ie I'm a pc and a mac). I'm an IT infrastructure analyst with a penchant for breaking tech toys. I ate a sabermetric primer for breakfast. I love playing "All-powerful GM of MLB". The 2010 Cardinals represented a good, practical definition "cognitive dissonance". The 2011 version got by on duct tape and a prayer, and I'm fine with that. They just need new tape for #12 in 12.
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Chris December 10, 2010

I missed this when it was first published and I’m sorry I did. Pretty damn good argument against trading Ryan, something I believe the Cardinals would sorely regret.

Dennis December 10, 2010

Thanks for reading, Chris. One can never tell what the outcome of a trade will be, but I found it really interesting that Ozzie’s 1981 resulted in an All-Star game and a Gold Glove while Brendan’s slightly superior 2010 resulted in him being put in the trading block.

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