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Monday, April 21, 2008

Free Brendan Ryan

By Bernie Miklasz
04/20/2008 7:53 pm

Continuing his rehab of a rib-cage injury, infielder Brendan Ryan had two hits Sunday for the Class AA Springfield Cardinals and is hitting .400 in his minor-league training stint.

I would think Ryan is due for a recall to the big team soon, but Cardinals manager Tony La Russa doesn’t seem to be concerned over his infield reserve strength. Rico Washington and Aaron Miles aren’t getting much done, but La Russa is in no rush to bring Ryan back to St. Louis.

“He missed a lot of playing time in spring training,” La Russa told me. “He’s getting in shape. He has to play himself into shape. You don’t do that in the majors.”

(Unless you’re a rusty Cardinals starting pitcher).

That may be true. But the feeling around the ballclub is that Ryan, for whatever reason, is not a favorite of TLR’s. Ryan is a hyper personality. He has a difficult time paying attention and loses focus. He’s 26, but immature. Ryan isn’t a bad young man, not at all. But Ryan is a bit of a showboat and he just rubs the skipper the wrong way.

I presume that Ryan will be here at some point, and relatively soon. If he isn’t, I’d expect GM John Mozeliak to assert some control over the situation and put Ryan back onto the 25-man roster. Mozeliak isn’t shy about roster decisions; he pushed for pitcher Anthony Reyes to remain on the Cardinals roster, even as a reliever, instead of being shipped to Class AAA Memphis to open the season. That decision paid off for the Cardinals, because Reyes has been a plus in the bullpen.

Ryan is no star, and may have limited upside as a major-leaguer. But he definitely would upgrade the skill level on the Cardinals’ bench.

Here’s why:

Ryan played well at three positions last season. Using the John Dewan/Bill James plus-minus system, Ryan was a +1 at 2B, a +1 at 3B, and a +3 at shortstop. What does that mean? Simple: according to the system he made more plays than he was expected to make, based on video review made by Dewan’s staff.

In 125 innings at 2B, Ryan should have gotten 39 outs, but got 40.

In 150 innings at 3B, he should have made 40 plays for outs and made 41.

In 163 innings at shortstop Ryan got three more outs (56) than expected (53).

(Note: Aaron Miles was a minus 1 at 2B, a minus 9 at shortstop, and even at 3B… Rico Washington can’t play SS at all, and Miles has terrible range at the position. If starter Cesar Izturis isn’t playing, the shortstop defense suffers. That’s another reason why Ryan needs to be here. He’s clearly better than Miles at SS… and by the way, I realize that Izturis isn’t doing much offensively. But he’s doing a fine job as a defender. Through Saturday his revized zone rating(RZR) was .889, which is 5th best among NL shortstops. Last season for the Cardinals, David Eckstein’s RZR was .783, or near the bottom of the list of NL shortstops.)

Ryan provides solid if unspectacular offense.

As a 2B last season he was .289 BA/ .373 OBP / .400 SLG

At 3B his stat line was .333 / .354 / .460

Perhaps the stress of playing shortstop impacted his offense, but Ryan still was .270 /.313 / .397 when he played SS.

Ryan had 7 stolen bases without getting caught. He runs very well.

When Ryan played in a game for the Cardinals last season, the team’s record was 37-30.

One minus: Ryan was only 1 for 9 as a pinch-hitter last season.

Let’s hope that Ryan satisfies La Russa by getting in “shape” soon … because the Cardinals’ bench needs an infusion of talent and versatility at the infield positions.

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