Quick, who is the best defensive shortstop in the National League? Jimmy Rollins? Troy Tulowitzki? Alcides Escobar? Rollins won the Gold Glove last year and is having a fine but unspectacular year, as measured by UZR. He’s been worth 6 runs. Troy Tulowitzki has a terrific defensive reputation, but UZR isn’t a huge fan this year at 2 runs. Jack Wilson is right there at +11 runs, but he’s since taken his act to the American League. Escobar has only been up for a short while. There’s still a whole lot of wait-and-see with him.
I humbly submit to you that the best defensive shortstop in the Senior Circuit has been Brendan Ryan. After riding the Memphis-St. Louis shuttle much of last year, Ryan has been thrust into full-time duties because of Khalil Greene’s struggles and battles with an anxiety disorder. His spasmodic behavior has formerly turned off to his conservative manager; Ryan has toned down the jumpiness a bit and turned up his game. According to the early returns on the Scouting Report by the Fans, Ryan’s defensive skills are drawing rave reviews across the board. He’s scoring 4.5 out of 5, and is right up there with Rollins and Tulo. He’s also leading NL shortstops in UZR with +13 runs.
In his brief career (161 games), Ryan has a UZR/150 of 14.3. While it’s better to have at least three years of data before we start making assumptions on a player’s defense, the eyes also really like him. Having personally watched him play for quite a while now, I would not be shocked if he was a +1 win defender every year. He has a flair for making the spectacular almost look routine.
He’ll never wow anyone with his bat. His career wOBA is .313, this season it’s .317. That’s close enough to average to make him a valuable player when you factor in his defense. From utility player to becoming a 3-win shortstop, Brendan Ryan is overshadowed by some of the stars on the Cardinals, but he’s been a big part of the team’s success.
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