After yesterday's game, in which Brendan Ryan made a couple of really nice defensive plays and hit a game changing triple, I began to wonder just how valuable Boog is to this team. I also began to wonder if he could be the answer at short long-term for the Cardinals. I've taken a look at his numbers, both in the minors and as a big leaguer, to answer these questions and I think I've come to an encouraging conclusion: Brendan Ryan has a chance to be a Cardinal for a while.
Let's start by looking at the area where, to the naked eye, Boog has the most value. This, of course, lies in his defense at SS. Ryan has the highest UZR/150 rating of anyone in baseball who has played at least 300 innings at SS. Yes, you read that right. At arguably the most important defensive position in the game, we have the best fielder in all the majors, according to UZR/150. And really, its not even that close. His 26.2 rating is 6 points higher than his closest compatriot at SS, Jack Wilson(who is generally considered one of the better shortstops in the game). Now, I realize that his 320 innings may cause people to scream "Small Sample Size," but unlike with hitting, luck really doesn't play a part in fielding(especially a zone rating). Additionally, he has been a plus defender in his other two years with the Cardinals and in his time in the minors, so this defense isn't likely to go away. His defense this season has been worth 10.7 runs above average already this season, which calculates out to about 1.7 wins(10 runs=1 win). I have to feel like he is going to get twice as many innings at short in the second half, so if he keeps up his current defensive level, he could be worth at least 3 wins just with the glove alone.
Now let's look as his less glamorous side. Ryan has been the definition of average at the plate this season, being worth -0.3 runs at the plate. Coming into today's game, Boog has had 184 at bats this season, which is 4 more than he had in 2007(I'm kinda disregarding his '08 season due to his rib injury, which we all know can really hurt a player's offensive performance.) He was worth 2.5 runs above replacement with the bat in 2007, so he has not been quite as good this year at the plate. His slugging% in those two seasons('07 and '09) is actually higher than i would have thought, being over .400 both season(though just barely). The thing that really hurts Ryan's offensive performance is his low OBP. He's never going to hit for any real power(the occasional double or triple) so in order to be a valuable offensive player, he has to get on base. The reason he has a low OBP is because he doesn't take walks. His average has hovered around .290-.300, so he is getting hits, he just isn't taking walks. His BB% is 4.7 this season and was 7.7% in '07. His highest BB% in the minors was 8.1 in 2006 at low A ball, so we probably don't have a rise in BB% to look forward to. If he could get is BB% up to, say, 10%, he would be roughly half a win over 500 plate appearances(I extrapolated his current numbers to 500 PA, so thats 50 BBs for a .353 wOBA). I don't think we will ever see Ryan take 50 walks over 500 at bats, and until he does he will probably be league average hitter. You could probably also say that his average around .300 is due to a small sample size, and you may be right. Boog did show the ability to hit for a pretty good average in the minors(.278 in 353 PA in 2007 at Memphis), but expecting him to stay in the .290 to .300 may be asking too much. Still, I will give him the benefit of the doubt, since he has done it in two different major league seasons. I will add here that he has shown the ablility to steal a few bases(though his 4 CS in 12 attempts is nothing to write home about); in fact, I believe that if Tony would run more, Ryan could probably steal 20-30 bases over a full season. That adds some value to the overall Boog package, though probably not much(I'm sure there is some way to evaluate the value of a steal, but I don't know where to find it).
So, hopefully I have shown that , assuming Boog continues to be a plus defender, he can be worth at least 3 runs over the course of a full season(and potentially more if he takes some walks and plays the stellar defense he has been this season). 3 WAR would have made Boog the 11th best SS in baseball last year, more valuable than Stephen Drew, Michael Young, and Cristian Guzman. 3 WAR is more value than Jack Wilson had in any season but his career best year(2004). Now, this could be Ryan's career year, but since his value is weighted in defense, which isn't likely to diminish to much, I think this could be sustainable. Not bad for a guy only making 400K(he's been worth $8.7 milion already this year) this season. He'll have under 3 years of service time after this season, so he'll be incredibly cheap again next season. He's 27, so he's about to enter the "prime" of his career, and I think he can be a cheap, yet valuable, bridge to the era of the Kozmonaut(Pete Kozma-who probably has at least 2 more years before he's ready to take over.) Let's just hope his wrist holds up and that is proneness(is that a word?) for injuries stops being a problem.
All stats and figures came from Fangraphs.com
I used the wOBA calcualtor provided online by BayCityBall.com.
If I screwed anything up(math, stats, analysis of numbers) feel free to let me know.