Slick-fielding Ryan aims to make strides at plate

Slick-fielding Ryan aims to make strides at plate

ST. LOUIS -- The best defensive shortstop in the National League, maybe in baseball, may not win a Gold Glove when the 2010 NL honorees are named on Wednesday.

Brendan Ryan also may not have a starting job when the Cardinals begin the 2011 season.

Ryan struggled mightily at the plate in 2010, a year after a breakout campaign that saw him emerge as the Cards' regular shortstop for the first time. His batting average dropped by 67 points to .223. His on-base percentage fell from .340 to .279. His slugging percentage dropped 106 points to .294. It would have been a lost year, but for the fact that Ryan was absolutely brilliant defensively -- even better than he was in '09.

Even with Ryan's golden glovework, the Redbirds may look for an upgrade at shortstop this winter. And Ryan knows it.

"I feel like I hope I get invited back to camp next year," Ryan said when asked what he made of his '10 season. "I'll be doing everything I can in the offseason to prepare myself to win a job. Of course I'd like it to be an everyday job, but I don't know. We'll see. I'm just going to do the best I can, and in my mind, that's far better than what [I did] this season. I'm going to keep believing that until it does or doesn't happen."

As bad as the offensive numbers were, Ryan's defensive stats were that good. He led all Major League shortstops in pretty much every advanced fielding metric. By the Fielding Bible's plus-minus system, Ryan rated a plus-32, which is to say he made 31 more plays than an average shortstop. Second-place Yunel Escobar trailed by a wide margin at plus-22.

According to Fangraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, Ryan rated 11.5 runs above average for the year, nearly a run better than second-place Alexei Ramirez. And as measured by Total Fielding Runs at Baseball-Reference.com, Ryan was 15 runs above average, outdistancing Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Wilson by three runs.

It's visible to the naked eye, as well. Ryan is a dazzling fielder with a strong arm, one of the most entertaining and athletic shortstops in the Majors. Yet he didn't even win the Fielding Bible's defensive award, despite a dominant showing in that publication's own stats. It's a long shot to think he will bring home a Gold Glove on Wednesday.

That's partly because he struggled at the plate. It may also result partly from a spate of errors he made early in the season, when he was near his low point offensively.

"The first half I felt was very different from the second half," Ryan said. "The numbers spoke for themselves -- I was hitting .170 or whatever it was, and I felt tremendous pressure in the field to be more than just good or great. I felt I had to be spectacular. I could not make a mistake. If it's this low offensively, it's got to be that high defensively. And that doesn't help. That's not a healthy mind frame."

He got it together, though, and came on to play superbly in the field in the second half. Ryan never quite got his offense going, however. He tinkered with his swing before the 2010 season and acknowledges now that it may not have been the best idea. Coming off a good season, the smarter course of action might have been to stay put.

Whatever the best course, though, Ryan needs to find it before 2011. He doesn't need to hit like an All-Star, but he needs to hit better than he did in '10. His glove is among the best in the game, but without some offensive improvement, nothing is a certainty for him. And he knows it.

"I'm going to grade and judge myself harder than anyone else," he said. "You'd rather have it that way than the other way around, where you think you're safe. I'm pretty critical of myself. At the same time, I could be a little bit better at it, a little more positive with myself. But I don't know. I've got a lot to think about in the offseason."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.