Watching this team the past few weeks, you kind of knew Brendan Ryan might be living on borrowed time no matter how good his defense is.
Today, that time ran out.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge called Ryan and Robert Andino into his office today for a rather blunt, frank discussion. He told them Andino is now the team’s starting shortstop and that Ryan will be in the backup role for the time being.
“I’ve actually talked to both Robert and Brendan and I’m going to give Andino an opportunity to play a little bit more,” Wedge said. “I wanted to be upfront with both those guys, I was, but I had very strong coversations with both of those guys because of the responsibility that goes along with playing more, with Andino. Of course, with Brendan, what I feel he needs to do to get to where he needs to go.”
Just to clarify, I asked Wedge point-blank whether the pair were flip-flopping roles — Andino the starter and Ryan his backup.
“Yeah,” he said. “What I’m going to do is take it day-by-day, week-by-week and month-by-month, quite frankly,” Wedge said. “And I’m going to give Robert a chance to play and see where he takes it. I liked what I saw with his work and his approach this spring. I don’t feel like it’s been as good here in-season.
“But I feel like he’s been a little bit better here the last week in the cage. Hell, when I send him up there to pinch-hit though, I don’t send him up there to take. You know what I mean? I don’t like that. If he’s going to play in the middle of the diamond and he’s going to play regularly for us, he needs to go out there and have a focused approach every day that allows him to be the player I feel he can be.”
Wedge knew as of last night that he was going to go with Andino more regularly. That’s one reason he left him in there in the ninth rather than pinch-hitting for him.
It’s also why, as he stated, he was so disappointed that Andino took a called strikeout when pinch-hitting for Ryan in the seventh inning.
Now, clearly, there is going to be an eruption over this move from some segments of the bliogosphere. Ryan is a valuable defender who won a Fielding Bible Award last year and likely should have won the Gold Glove over J.J. Hardy.
Whatever you think of those awards, the defensive metrics do suggest that Ryan’s glove overrides his lack of offense.
FanGraphs WAR (Wins Above Replacement) had Ryan at a +1.4 win player last year despite being a sub-.200 hitter. But there comes a tipping point where too little offense becomes too little.
Baseball Reference WAR (which uses a different defensive metric) had Ryan as a +3.5 win player.
Now, the difference in the two scores is significant and one reason why skeptics still find it tough to decide whether WAR should be taken too seriously over a single season.
Andino was just a 0.2 win player in Baseball Reference WAR last year in a reduced role, but had been a 2.5 win player as a full-timer with Baltimore in 2011. Fangraphs WAR had Andino at -0.8 last year and at +1.4 in 2011, so again, the numbers are kind of all over the place.
But it’s safe to say, as good as any glove is, you have to actually hit the ball at some point. What this is, is a calculated risk that Andino will use his added playing time to get in some type of hitting groove and give the team something other than a deep hole in the No. 9 spot.
I asked Wedge what the offensive tipping point was for him when it came to Ryan.
“You know, we stuck with him last year because we felt like we were going to give him every opportunity and quite frankly, we had every opportunity to give him every opportunity,” Wedge said. “If that makes any sense. I’m saying it without saying it.”
What Wedge is saying is that the team would have replaced Ryan more often last year if Munenori Kawasaki was a capale major league player on an everyday basis. They decided that he wasn’t, which is why he was one of the first players dropped last off-season, despite his fun dugout antics.
“But you can’t expect change and then do the same thing every day,” he added. “You’ve got to change your habits. And you’ve got to change the way you go about doing things. It’s as simple as that. This is going to give him a chance to work with (hitting coach) Dave Hansen and take a step back to hopefully take two steps forward.”
So, I asked, how much defense is he expecting to sacrifice with this move?
“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Wedge said. “That’s up to Mr. Andino. He’s capable of being a very good shortstop, so I count on him to go out there prepare to be so.”
In other news, Michael Saunders will be re-evaluated when the team gets back to Seattle tomorrow. If all is still fine, he’ll do a couple of days of a Class AAA rehabilitation assignment and then rejoin the Mariners either Sunday or, more likely, on Monday.