That number is no aberration.
Ryan hit .194 in 2012 for Seattle. OPS+ is a stat measuring a hitter’s on-base plus slugging percentage in a more normalized fashion than OPS (for example – park effects are taken into account). An average hitter posts a number around 100. Ryan hasn’t been above 59 in three of the past four seasons.
And yet, despite having one of the worst bats allowed to reside in the American League, Ryan has been more valuable than Eduardo Nunez, the Yankees primary shortstop as Derek Jeter shuffles back and forth between injured and temporarily healthy.
At first glance that seems like a strange proposition. Nunez is batting .257 and is a career .267 hitter. He has a .283 average in 50 games (45 starts) since coming off the disabled list on July 6 and is batting .323 with a .373 on-base percentage since August 7 (26 games, 24 starts).
The problem for Nunez, however, is that he is awful – absolutely, extremely terrible – at playing his defensive position. Ryan on the other hand, has been brilliant.
Nunez has a -19.5 Ultimate Zone Rating, an advanced metric measuring a fielder’s ability to get to balls hit in his zone, this season in 607.1 innings. That’s the worst in MLB for a fielder with at least 600 innings at short. The next worst is Asdrubal Cabrera, at -11.9.
He has -27 Defensive Runs Saved this season, again last in MLB. DRS is the primary defensive component in the all-encompassing Wins Above Replacement stat. No one in baseball this season, at any position, has posted a worse DRS than Michael Young and Alejandro De Aza’s -18.
Except, of course, Nunez.
Put another way, Mets defensive phenom centerfielder Juan Lagares has posted +24 DRS in 694.1 innings. As great as Lagares has been, Nunez has been terrible.
Speaking of WAR, Nunez is at -1.6 WAR on Fangraphs this year. Baseball-Reference, which uses a slightly different WAR formula, has Nunez at -2.0 WAR this year. Baseball-Reference also helpfully breaks down WAR into offensive WAR and defensive WAR. Nunez has a 0.9 oWAR and -2.5 dWAR. His substandard fielding has more than negated any offensive help he’s provided the Yankees.
Ryan has the opposite issues. He has a -0.4 oWAR this season and 0.9 dWAR, his fielding keeping him in a major league clubhouse. That equals out on Baseball-Reference to a 0.0 WAR, exactly replacement level. Fangraphs rates Ryan at -0.7 WAR, slightly below replacement level.
For visual evidence of Ryan's skill, here's several video examples.
But either measure contends that he provides better overall value than Nunez.
Ryan has a 1.0 UZR this season, but posted a UZR of 10 or higher each of the previous three seasons. He has a career 11.7 UZR/150 in 5,310.1 innings at short. He has 3 DRS this season but had 18 or higher DRS in each of the previous four seasons.
Essentially what the Yankees have done by acquiring Ryan is upgraded the pitching staff without acquiring an arm.
By strengthening their defense (obviously depending how often Joe Girardi plays him) at the most important infield spot, the Yankees will likely help their pitchers turn more balls in play into outs, making for shorter innings and better outings.
Who benefits most? David Huff (40.4), Joba Chamberlain (42.6), Mariano Rivera (44.4), CC Sabathia (45.3), Andy Pettitte (46.2), Adam Warren (46.2), Preston Claiborne (46.9), Hiroki Kuroda (47), Boone Logan (47.3), David Robertson (48.5) and Ivan Nova (53.4) all have groundball rates in excess of 40 percent.
The Yankees pitching staff has the sixth-highest groundball rate in the American League. Each of the five teams above them – Tigers (Jose Iglesias), Red Sox (Stephen Drew), Rangers (Elvis Andrus), Royals (Alcides Escobar), White Sox (Alexei Ramirez) – has an above-average to elite shortstop.
Yankees relievers in particular should benefit from Ryan’s prowess. The taxed and tired New York bullpen has the third-highest groundball rate in the league. Once again, the two teams above them – the Blue Jays (Jose Reyes) and Orioles (J.J. Hardy) – have excellent defenders at short.
Now the Yankees have one, too.
Oh, and Ryan can also impersonate Robert DeNiro: