The Yankees have two polar opposite shortstops, Derek Jeter being one of the greatest offensive contributors with an awful reputation as a defensive player, and , Brendan Ryan as one of the greatest defensive shortstops in the game with a bat that hardly belongs in a major league lineup. Despite Ryan’s offensive inabilities, the Yankees extended him a 2 year $5 million contract with a 3rd year option this offseason. It’s uncertain exactly how he’ll fit into the 2014 club, with Jeter earning the vast majority of starts, but he’ll be a welcome addition to a number of ground ball pitchers.
Ryan’s career offensive numbers aren’t pretty, he’s a .237/.299/.320 hitter, but most of these numbers have been on the decline for the last two seasons. In 2013, the Mariners, who aren’t exactly recognized as the biggest offensive club, grew tired of his bat, and traded him to the Yankees after he hit just .192/.254/.265 with a 43 wRC+. With the Yankees, Ryan didn’t fair much better in his 62 plate appearances, batting just .220/.258/.305 with a 51 wRC+.
Oddly enough, there has been some speculation in the media that the Yankees could fix Ryan’s swing. Some reports talking about the future of the shortstop position after Derek Jeter wonder if Kevin Long can do something with the current no-hit all-glove infielder. It’s hard to tell where this line of thinking comes from, as Ryan as never shown dominance in any of his splits. There’s very little difference between his ability to hit lefties or righties, and despite playing in pitcher ballparks for his entire career, he has slightly better numbers at home than on the road.
What Ryan does decently with his bat is make contact, as he has just a slightly below average ability to get on base when hitting line drives, and he hits these at a relatively good rate. With some speed, he can get on base with ground ball as well, and perhaps the Yankees think that they can cut down on his fly ball rates which are entirely too high for someone with no pop. His best offensive season was 2009, when he hit .292/.340/.400 in 429 plate appearances. In this season, he owned an 18.9 LD%, a 51.5 GB%, and a 29.6 FB%. In 2013, Ryan had a 40.7 FB%, a batted ball type which has him barely getting on base 1/10th of the time. Maybe the Yankees saw something change in Ryan’s swing with the Mariners, and they believe they can induce more ground ball singles.
I wouldn’t count on any offensive contributions from Ryan, what he does best is field. I expect to see him at shortstop on Jeter’s off days, which will probably begin at twice a week and change depending on the health of the Captain. Ryan’s glove should work well with heavy ground ball pitchers on the mound, especially left-handers. For that reason, I wonder if CC Sabathia, who owns a 45.3 GB% over his career, will have somewhat of a shortstop caddy with Ryan providing his incredible defense during these starts, and Jeter earning a break 1 to 2 times a week.
I believe Ryan will earn about the same number of plate appearances as he saw earlier in his career with the Cardinals, around 300. Knowing Kevin Long, he’ll likely look back at old tape and try to figure out how the infielder can hit more ground balls, perhaps even helping him increase his contact and batting average numbers. Regardless, what we can expect from Ryan is a great defensive shortstop, and used the proper way, he’ll probably help some of the ground balls pitchers. With Long trying to help Ryan and a friendlier ballpark, I’ll put Ryan’s offensive contributions at .230/.290/.320 with 5 home runs in 300 plate appearances.