Brendan Ryan rejoined the Yankees for the first time this season last night. He missed the first 31 games of the season with a cervical spine nerve injury. The 32-year-old utility infielder will be the primary backup for Derek Jeter at shortstop and can fill in at second and third as well. Ryan is a defensive whiz who is known as one of the best defensive shortstops in the majors. However, as good as his defensive skills are, his offensive ones are equally as bad. So how can Ryan help the Yankees?
Brendan Ryan effectively replaces Dean Anna, who was sent to the minors when Michael Pineda was suspended. Anna was a good defender with a nice bat. He was the Pacific Coast League batting champion in 2013. However, the other career minor leaguer that made the Yankees’ opening day roster, Yangervis Solarte, has completely outplayed Anna along with all reasonable expectations. Ryan is an offensive liability on a team that has struggled to score runs this season, leading to a negative run differential so far this. Ryan is not the answer for the offensive woes plaguing the Yankees.
One would think that since Ryan is a natural shortstop and played there exclusively during his rehab, Ryan would be used a late-inning defensive replacement for Jeter. However, manager Joe Girardi has stated that will not be the case, at least not initially. Girardi has only committed to using Ryan at shortstop on days off for Jeter. This was the same limited role that Anna played for the first month of the season. However, Ryan is a much more gifted defender and worthy of greater playing time.
“I have no idea,” Ryan said. “I’ll just take it one day at a time, as cliched as that is. I’ll be ready to play every day, whether it’s one inning or to start or whatever. It’s something I’ll make clear: if they need me to tape ankles today, I’ll do that too. Whatever they need me for, I’m ready for it. I played in the National League for La Russa and same kind of deal there. You never know. Be ready for anything. It kind of makes it fun too.”
I am big fan of playing to a player’s strengths and avoiding their weaknesses. If a player is great against lefties but can’t hit righties, he should play versus lefties only. If a pitcher’s best pitch is a a sinker down and away to lefties, you shouldn’t shift everyone to the right side. If a player is a defensive whiz but can’t get over the Mendoza Line, he should play the field and not be a pinch hitter. Brendan Ryan is an elite defensive talent. He should be playing the late innings of every game this season and start only a handful. The Yankee infield is a defensive nightmare. While Solarate has been a pleasant surprise for the most part defensively at third base, Jeter and Brian Roberts have nearly zero range between them. Kelly Johnson has been decent in the field but has not been playing recently due to the emergence of Solarte and return of Mark Teixeira from the DL. Why would the Yankees not use Ryan as a defensive replacement for Jeter or Roberts or Solarte every night? What is the downside, especially when you have a lead?
The fact that Girardi is dismissing the use of Ryan as a defensive replacement right off the bat is alarming. Defense is the only reason Brendan Ryan is in the major leagues at all. If you are not going to put him in a position to succeed, why bother to have him on the team taking up a roster spot?