When the Yankees have a lead in the ninth inning this season, David Robertson probably will be the one trotting in from the bullpen for the save.
But before that, Brendan Ryan might be jogging out from the dugout in the eighth inning -- to replace Derek Jeter at shortstop for defense in the captain’s final season.
Ryan said as much at a recent public appearance in Connecticut when he speculated that his role -- assuming Jeter is healthy enough to start most games at shortstop -- could be as Jeter’s caddie. Ryan called it “kind of a save situation.”
Defensive replacements are nothing new. But the idea of replacing your shortstop, who is supposed to be one of your best defensive players to begin with, is not common.
When you factor in Jeter’s iconic status and general reluctance to admit any defensive shortcomings, pulling him for Ryan could be a powder keg for manager Joe Girardi.
Of course, the Yankees only can hope they have this problem to manage. Jeter will turn 40 on June 26 and is coming off a season wrecked by a severe ankle injury. There’s no telling how many games he’ll be able to play or how effective he’ll be in the field.
As Ryan put it: “I don’t know what’s going to happen with any of us . . . One wonders what Jeter’s going to be capable of.”
Jeter’s defense has always been a polarizing topic for baseball analysts. His lack of range has been well-documented over the years; most analysts don’t believe his sure-handedness ever could overcome the sheer number of balls he didn’t get to, even in his prime.
But Jeter has been the starting shortstop on five World Series champions and won five Gold Glove awards (2004-06 and 2009-10).
Just mentioning that Jeter has even one Gold Glove is enough to make a baseball analyst do a serious eye roll and question the legitimacy of Gold Glove voting. Gold Glove voting traditionally has been done by baseball managers and coaches. Last year, for the first time, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) designed a statistical measure that accounted for 25 percent of the vote.
Ben Lindbergh, the editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus, wrote a lengthy article for the website Grantland in August entitled “The Tragedy of Derek Jeter’s Defense.”
According to the article, “Jeter has cost his team more in the field than any other player in history.” That’s according to Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) and Baseball-Reference’s Total Zone systems, which place the “damage” to the Yankees at 230 to 260 runs over Jeter’s career.
Lindbergh did a comparison of Jeter’s defense from 2011-12 to that of one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball: Brendan Ryan. The article appeared a few weeks before the Yankees acquired Ryan from the Mariners after Jeter’s season ended prematurely because of his ankle woes.
The article also mentioned that Baseball Info Solutions had rated Ryan as the best defensive shortstop in baseball (at plus-45 runs) and Jeter as the worst (minus-33 runs) in that two-year span.
Yankees fans who got a chance to watch Ryan play in September saw firsthand how special he is at shortstop. He’s equally weak at the plate, with a lifetime slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) of .237/.299/.320.
Ryan’s advanced defensive stats were down in 2013, but that could have been a smaller-sample-size aberration. In 2012, his last full season as a starter, Ryan hit .194/.277/.278. But his FRAA was 12.0, which is such a lofty defensive number that his Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) was 1.9.
Jeter’s resurgent 2012 season (.316/.362/.429) included a FRAA of minus-7.8, which reduced his WARP to 3.0. So according to that measure, Ryan — in a horrific offensive season — is only 1.1 wins less valuable a player than Jeter in one of the Yankees captain’s top offensive seasons.
And consider these numbers: The Yankees are paying Ryan $2 million this year as part of a guaranteed two-year, $5-million contract.
It’s an expensive insurance policy — and one Girardi might tap into in the eighth inning on Opening Day in Houston if the Yankees have a lead.
If that happens, we can only hope the YES cameras take a peek at Jeter’s reaction.