September 11, 2013
The Anti-Jeter Joins Jeter
When matter and anti-matter—and Monitor and Anti-Monitor—meet, both are annihilated in a massive explosion. At some point today, we’ll see whether a similar reaction occurs when both Derek Jeter and Brendan Ryan put on the pinstripes.
Like the particles and anti-particles that react so strongly when they come into contact, Jeter and Ryan have the same mass (195 pounds), but opposite properties. Jeter is a future Hall of Famer whose bat is (or has been) good enough to overcome an extreme lack of range in the field. Ryan is a future forgotten player whose range is (or has been) good enough to overcome an almost comically bad bat. Jeter, to the chagrin of statheads who study defense, has five Gold Gloves; Ryan, to the dismay of the same statheads, has yet to win one. Jeter has made more money in each of the past 14 seasons than Ryan has earned in his entire career. When the mics are on, Jeter mostly offers bland bromides about how he’s gotta support the team; Ryan is an interesting quote to whom beat writers make a beeline.
But the two have at least a couple things in common: neither one likes losing, and both have seen better days.
At 39, Jeter’s age and ankle have relegated him to permanent day-to-day status. And at 31, Ryan’s decreased contact rate and increased propensity to pop up have turned him into a part-time player displaced by Brad Miller. But he still has a good glove, and there’s only so much Eduardo Nunez a team can take before it looks outside the organization for a better backup. The Yankees have played plenty of offensive zeroes at short this season—including Jayson Nix, Reid Brignac, Alberto Gonzalez, Luis Cruz and, thus far, Jeter himself—so even if Ryan continues to hit as poorly as he has, his defense might make him the best of the bunch. After gaining a game on Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and Cleveland last night, the Yankees’ playoff odds are still in single digits, and a cameo from Ryan won’t move that needle much. But having him won’t hurt.
Late last month, I took a cue from Bill James’ 2006 “Jeter vs. Everett” essay and wrote a feature for Grantland in which I compared Jeter and Ryan using GIFs of plays whose difficulty was determined by Baseball Info Solutions. The article was intended for an audience that doesn’t already instinctively crack Jeter jokes whenever a shortstop fails to get to a ball, so some of it would be old news to the typical BP subscriber, but the idea was to make what the stats say more convincing by pairing them with the old-fashioned eye test. Anyone who watches the Yankees will soon see the same thing firsthand. “Pasta diving Ryan” isn’t really a problem.
At this point, Ryan is probably past his peak in the field, but while he’s ceded the shortstop crown to Andrelton Simmons, he’s still capable of incredible plays. On the day my article appeared, Ryan did this:
Judging by the awed reactions of Pinstriped Bible commenters watching a GIF of that play for the first time, Yankees fans might enjoy this rare exposure to an actual shortstop. But it could be a brief one: because he was acquired after August 31st, Ryan won’t be eligible for the postseason roster should the Yankees claim a wild card, and he’ll be a free agent for the first time this winter. (If anything, it's surprising that New York didn't make this move sooner, since Ryan reportedly cleared waivers in the middle of last month.) It’s been so long since Yankees fans got a glimpse of a good defensive shortstop that it seems like a shame not to give them a longer look; bringing back Ryan as a utility type wouldn’t be the worst move Brian Cashman could make, since even an offseason of rest and rehab is unlikely to turn Jeter into the picture of productivity at age 40.