They Call Him Boog

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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Erik Manning is the founder of Future Redbirds and covers the Cardinals for Heater Magazine. You can get more of his analysis and rantings in bite-sized bits by following him on twitter.

35 Responses to “They Call Him Boog”

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  1. Pat Andriola says:

    I guess it should be noted that his defensive value is even all the more important for a Cardinals pitching staff that has some groundball machines. Pineiro & co. must love having Ryan back there.

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  2. Joe R says:

    Too bad the gold glove is an offensive award?

    …wait it isn’t? Circle me stunned.

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  3. Stu says:

    How is Yunel Escobar not even in the discussion?

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  4. ChuckO says:

    I have the same question as Stu. I’ve watched a lot of Braves games and it seems to me that Yunel Escobar is one heck of a shortstop.

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  5. Ron says:

    There is a plenty of data on him and the numbers say he’s average. Your personal observation probably isn’t very accurate.

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  6. Joe R says:

    Yunel Escobar’s a good player. His glove is not the reason why.

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  7. VolsnCards5 says:

    The Boog man Cometh…i’ve been on this bandwagon since May, come aboard everyone

    His Spasmodic personality does lead to nicks and bruises though…he’s been hurt a few times this year

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  8. NEPP says:

    I think when Jimmy Rollins wins his 3rd straight GG it will show that it isn’t always an “offensive award”. Rollins is the best defensive SS in the game regardless of what fielding metrics show. You sometimes actually have to watch the game to appreciate the little things he does that make him such a great fielder.

    There are some issues overall with UZR and its not a perfect stat.

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    • Ron says:

      Does he know how to win?

      Metrics show that Rollins is one of the best shortstops in the game. But since your a big proponent of watching the players rather than relying on metrics I guess you’ve watched all of the other shortstops in the league all season long, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to pronounce Rollins the best.

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      • CFIC says:

        yup. I’m guessing this guy hasn’t seen the range of boog. he is a rangey, defensively spectacular shortstop. I haven’t seen Rollins make plays like Ryan has….

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    • Mojowo says:

      Well, if you’re going to make a comment like this and hand Rollins the GG award, I certainly hope you’ve also been watching all the Cardinals games so you can compare/contrast which of the two does the “little things that make him a great fielder” better. Unless J-Roll is the only shortstop in the NL that knows how to do little things?

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      • tom s. says:

        let’s see – 162 games x 2 hrs/game x 30 teams divided by two = 4860 hours of baseball. That’s a lot of baseball watching for these people who like to make sweeping pronouncements about who the best in the league is based only on their eyes. that’s 202 and a half 24-hour days of baseball watching each season.

        i salute you and whichever parent supplies you with the basement wherein you watch all this baseball, nepp. truly a testament to human endurance.

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    • CFIC says:

      have you seen Brendan Ryan play shortstop? he’s better than Rollins defensively

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    • Joe R says:

      This reminds me of the 50+ year old man who screams “YOU NEVER SAW HIM PLAY HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT I SAW HIM PLAY YOU DIDN’T” if someone dares say that Clete Boyer > Brooks Robinson defensively.

      FWIW, BP’s rate has Boyer at +10 runs / 100 games and Robinson at +7 runs / 100 games at third.

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      • Kincaid says:

        That’s not really a good example. Boyer was also retired at 34. Brooks was playing third until he was 40 and played twice as many innings at third as Boyer. You can’t take players with samples that disparate and just compare their rates as if they are on the same scale, or else you will run into a case where you are arguing with a stubborn old-timer who is actually right.

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      • Barry D. says:

        In the years that Boyer and Robinson played head to head against each other (1960-1966), Boyer had a better range factor rating per nine innings than Robinson each year. Yet Robinson, and not Boyer was winning the Gold Glove awards.

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    • Cardinals645 says:

      Sometimes I wonder if scouts and ‘old-timer’ type baseball fans go on fangraphs and bait us statheads, akin to how people would bait Joe Morgan chats, because why else would someone with this viewpoint be on a stats-based analysis site?

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  9. Justin R. says:

    Ryan leads all National League shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved so he truly is the best defensive shortstop in the National League.

    Thanks, mainly, to Jack Wilson being traded obviously.

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  10. Snayke says:


    I learned from Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch THAT WE MUST WATCH THE GAMES!!! Who cares if less than one percent of Cards/Phillies fans watch all 162 games of the other team: YOU MUST WATCH THE GAMES!!! I know from watching Jimmy Rollins 10 times this year that he’s the greatest shortstop OF ALL-TIME.

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    • Joe R says:

      1) You’re an idiot, everyone here “watches the games”
      2) Great, so you increase your shaky 1 season sample from 1 player to 2. 28 more starters to go!

      Example: Bostonians rave about Ellsbury’s defense, yet his UZR is very low. Why? Because there’s a shit ton of CF’s with an even better skill set.

      I’ll take an objective counting statistic to accompany my observation rather than rely on what the TV guys say any day of the week. But I forgot, when the result doesn’t please you, ignore it. This is human progress.

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  11. Joe R says:

    BTW, FRAA has Ryan at +18
    Rollins? -8

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  12. NEPP says:

    Or perhaps UZR isn’t the end all be all of statistical analysis.

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  13. NEPP says:

    To clarify, I think that a lot of good comes from statistical analysis and the attempt to quantify defense through these programs. However, there are clearly some issues with such a system. Barring a major injury, how does a guy like Shane Victorino go from 6.5 in 2008 to -5.2 in 2009? He hasn’t lost a step. If anything, he’s taking better routes to balls this year as he has more experience in CF. Its not as if a ton of balls are falling in either.

    The same could be said for Chase Utley. How does he go from posting a 20.2 UZR in 2008 on a bum hip to just an 8.7 this year when he’s fully healthy?

    Its a great tool but there are clearly some quirks in it still. Just as there are issues in the Pitchfx tool still there are issues with UZR. To ignore it is silly at best.

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  14. rolo says:

    I kind of agree with NEPP. UZR has a bit too much variance for me to take too seriously. The range for results from year to year seems to wide for what I’d expect. I can’t yet wrap my head around how someone goes from being off the charts fantastic in one year (Utley) to more in line with what we’d expect (i.e. closer to the rest of the good fielders). Seems like too high a standard deviation (this is solely based on a thought exercise, I have done zero research)…

    Regardless, this award is difficult to predict because there have been so many instances where it went to someone that really appeared to be an average defensive player.

    I think, in general, we should be happy if either a guy like Rollins or Tulowitzki wins it, in addition to the kid from the Cardinals. However, it seems unlikely that the voters would look past an easy metric like fielding percentage and award it to Rollins (.991) versus the the others (.988, .987)

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  15. Joe R says:

    NEPP and rolo

    UZR, as stated, is very volatile. Most experts on the stat suggest a 3 year sample size to really, accurately judge a fielder. It is very possible a gold glover one year could be average the next without anything being “wrong” with them or the metric.

    Also, everyone knows fielding metrics are currently to the wheel what hitting metrics are to Ferraris. While one can call UZR glorified range factor (I kind of see it that way), it provides an objective way to look at defense that’s more reliable than older metrics or simply watching to judge a fielder. Even if, say, someone watches 240 NL games a year (or about 30 games each team). How many plays will you get to see each player make in the field. 90-110? Tops? And remember all of it to accurately judge them all without bias? Metrics are better. Metrics and watching are best.

    Obviously one thing people hate about metrics is sometimes it gives a weird result. Example: Ellsbury’s range in 2009 is said to be well below average. This is weird to a lot of people, especially Sox fans. The first thought is to just reject it. But if you look at the metric, then watch Ellsbury vs, say, BJ Upton, you can see that his range vs. contemporaries isn’t as great. Does this mean he’s bad at playing center? No. Just means others are better.

    Personally, I think the high standard deviation of metrics can be kind of fun. GG’s really aren’t that important anyway, but hey, give it to a different guy annually. Giving Ryan the GG isn’t an inditement of Rollins, he’s been fine with the glove. But last season he was sensational, and we shouldn’t be handing out 2009 awards for 2008 performance.

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  16. NEPP says:

    I will definitely give you the 3 year range is a better indicator of a player’s true ability. That is pretty much true with any statistic (offensive or defensive).

    I think Rollins wins simply because he’s have a very solid year and is the incumbent. He has a great fielding percentage (something people still look at despite its limitations) and he makes the spectacular play from time to time. He doesn’t look to have really lost a step this year. Feliz and Utley being healthy have helped him out immensely as he hasn’t had to range as far to either side to make plays. That could be hurting his overall statistics. The same could be said for Victorino as he now gets a full year of Werth (who has great range in RF) and a much improved LF in Ibanez. Even though Ibanez has been average at best, he is a far cry from the statue that was Pat Burrell.

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    • Joe R says:

      Fair, since Rollins have been consistently above-average in his career with the glove and the hypothetical jury is still out on Ryan. Rollins may be better, but I do think Ryan’s having a better season.

      But like I said, 1 year of fielding data isn’t very predictive at all.

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  17. Spudchukar says:

    Rollins can no longer hold a candle to Ryan. Watching Rollins these days gives the impression all plays are made with the Gold Glove in mind. He has become a conservative SS. Happy to make all plays that do not cost him an error. Numerous times this year he was satisfied to stay back on, a ball rely on his arm and Not retire the runner. No error though, for play it safe Jimmy. Ryan on the other hand, at times even to his detriment, plays balls out on every opportunity. He is the one who will make the play to save games. Kudos on his recognition here. I am often a critic of the super-stats, but seeing him in action only emboldens his defensive abilities.

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