B.J. Ryan: What could have been

Yanks eke by Joe Mauer, 4-3
Bruney taking everything in stride

Yesterday the Toronto Blue Jays caught many baseball fans off-guard by releasing former closer B.J. Ryan. The move comes just 3.5 years into the five-year, $47 million deal he signed after the 2005 season. The Blue Jays will eat roughly $15 million, which illustrates just how far Ryan has fallen since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2007.

During the 2005-2006 off-season, Ryan was one of the most highly-regarded free agents. He, Kyle Farnsworth, and Billy Wagner represented the top of the pack. The Yankees, who were about to lose setup man Tom Gordon, were heavy into the relief market. While Wagner was right out — he was too perfect a fit for the Mets at the time — the Yanks thought they had a shot with Ryan.

A 6’6″ lefty from Louisiana, Ryan was poised to cash in. The Orioles moved him into the closer role at the end of 2004, and in 2005 it was his alone. He took advantage, pitching to a 2.43 ERA and amassing 36 saves (on the 74-win Orioles) in 70.1 innings. In terms of hits, walks, home runs, and strikeouts, it was a mirror of his 2004 campaign. Now that he’d established his place as an elite closer, demand for his services was high.

Perhaps as a ploy to up the bidding for his services, Ryan “expressed interest” in playing for New York. Keep the Yankees in the running and you can pump up your value for another team. It was unclear at the time whether Ryan’s interest was sincere, but the Yankees weren’t making any other moves until his situation was settled. As a left-hander and a viable replacement for the departing Tom Gordon, he was clearly the Yanks’ top target.

In late November, the fantasy came to an end. Ryan had signed his five-year deal with the Blue Jays. The Yankees, still in need of a setup man, turned to Kyle Farnsworth after Billy Wagner signed with the Mets and Tom Gordon headed to Philly. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, the Yankees were wise to stay away.

Then again, even at the time there were a few reasons for the Yankees to pursue other paths. Ben Shpigel, in the above-linked Times article, reminds us of a previous incident of signing a closer to set up:

Cashman was burned once before on this route, in 2001 when he signed Steve Karsay to a four-year, $22.25 million contract to be Rivera’s setup man. Karsay battled injuries and inconsistency and spent only one healthy season with the Yankees.

In the end, Ryan had only one healthy season with the Jays. It’s easy to say that Ryan might not have suffered the torn UCL which sidelined him for a year had he signed with the Yankees, but many thought surgery was inevitable. As Keith Law said in a chat: “Ryan was destined to blow out his elbow.” Will Carroll heard the same thing: “Then again, a pitcher with Ryan’s mechanics, and one that several scouts have told me was rushed through the minors to get as much value out of his arm as possible before it blew up, always represents a risk.” So there were definitely indicators beforehand.

(Yet, upon signing Ryan, Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi said: “He stands among the few pitchers in baseball worthy of a five-year contract.” Yeah, not so much, J.P.)

Finally, there was a rumor that Ryan doesn’t want to deal with the stress of playing in New York. This originally appeared in Newsday, but they’ve since taken down the article. I know it existed, though, because I linked to it from my old blog. Yes, I said you have to be a gamer in New York. How novice of me.

One can only imagine what life would have been had Ryan signed with the Yankees. While Farnsworth was busy blowing games and racking up a 4.36 ERA, Ryan was decimating opponents, pitching to a 1.37 ERA and holding a 0.86 WHIP. Unfortunately, after that it’s tough to tell. Would the Yankees have allowed Ryan to rush back from Tommy John surgery? He pitched his last game in 2007 on April 14, and returned to the majors on April 13, 2008. Rushing back didn’t seem to affect him: he didn’t allow a run until May 18 and pitched generally well all year (though I’ll always remember Giambi’s walk-off to the upper deck off him).

Ryan entered this season as the Jays closer, but quickly lost the job after going blowing two games and amassing a 11.12 ERA in six appearances. He then hit the DL with a sore trapezius, which manager Cito Gaston thought could be the reason for his lost velocity. That might have been the case, but Ryan still struggled after returning. In 15 innings over 19 games he’s allowed eight runs, walking 12 to just nine strikeouts. The three runs he gave up in a losing effort to the Yanks was apparently the last straw.

At the time, it was easy to fall in love with the prospect of Ryan setting up for Mo. He was the best option available who had a chance of coming to New York, and the allure of adding a power lefty setup man was there. It appears, though, that even at the time there was plenty working against Ryan. Much of it came to fruition, culminating with his release yesterday. He’ll catch on somewhere, probably on a minor league deal so he can work out his problems in games that don’t count (or he could just sign with the Nationals). All we as Yanks fans can do is wonder what could have been.

Yanks eke by Joe Mauer, 4-3
Bruney taking everything in stride
  • A.D.

    Maybe he’s just from the JB Cox school of not the same after TJS

    • Chris

      But he pitched well last year after he came back. Maybe he’s re-injured (his elbow or something else), but this isn’t exactly the same as JB.

  • gxpanos

    Is Ricciardo just an idiot? I mean, if KLaw knew that Ryan was destined to blow out his arm…

    And KLaw WORKED FOR Ricciardi when the contract was signed…why the hell’d they sign him?

    Plus, if Will Carroll knows something, there’s just no excuse for a team not to know something. They have all the same info.

    • UWS

      Is Ricciardi just an idiot?

      Yes.

    • pollo

      If Rios and Wells’ contracts weren’t enough to convince you…

      • gxpanos

        For some reason I thought he got a bit of a bum rap.

        Still though, he’s built some pretty good bullpens over the past few years, plus they’ve developed some decent (though injury-prone) young starters during his tenure. The Wells contract is abominable, but the Rios one is only pretty bad.

        Is he really worse than the average GM?

        • Tank Foster

          I can’t prove any of this, but I think we give GMs too much credit when their team’s succeed, and too much blame when they fail. I think it’s a really tough job, and 20:20 hindsight and backseat GMing make it look alot easier than it is.

          • Tank Foster

            *teams, not team’s.

    • Chris

      The list of prospects destined to blow out their arms in not the same as the list of major leaguers that actually do. Some guys survive with violent or strange deliveries and some guys break down even with perfect mechanics. It’s easy in hindsight to say “I told you so”.

    • Mattingly’s Love Child

      It is truly remarkable that Ricciardi still has a job. He has a history of poor decisions with extensions, free agents, trades, and comments to the media. At the same time, neither Klaw nor Carroll knew anything for certain when this contract was signed. They certainly had a feeling that it wasn’t going to end well, but to know for certain that someone is going to get hurt isn’t possible.

      BTW we could be having this conversation about the Yankees and AJ Burnett in a couple of years….

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      In one of the rare moments when he’s speaking intelligently and not just slobbing the Red Sox’s knob, Peter Gammons said on the Michael Kay show yesterday that former Orioles pitching coach and executive Mike Flanagan, a guy Gammons says “knows more about pitching than anyone I know” told him that Ryan’s delivery was horrible and was destined to break down.

      He also said Flanagan told him when Mark Prior was drafted and everyone raved about Prior’s awesome delivery that Prior’s delivery was horrible and that he’d never make it to 600 career IP.

      • Tank Foster

        What I want to know is why we keep blaming mechanics for arm and shoulder injuries. We have coaches at every level teaching mechanics.

        MLB pitchers have very explosive deliveries now. Their windups are slow-ish, deliberate, and without lots of movement or rocking. Then they generate tons of leverage and fire the ball.

        Is it possible that the old style deliveries, with more swinging of the arms and rocking/heaving of the body is a better way to get velocity without over-stressing your arms? Any pitchers out there know?

        • jjyank

          I can’t speak from too much experience, but I was a pitcher/3rd basemen back in highschool as well as a year of an 18+ state league while I was in college. I had a pretty standard wind-up, but as many of you probably already know, I found it much much easier to pitch out of the windup. I could generate more speed and my arm would tire less throughout the course of the game as opposed to the stretch.

          Of course my arm strength not tiring as fast when pitching out of the windup more could be a product of simply pitching a good game since pitching out of the windup more means less runners on base.

          Still though, its an interesting thought. The movement I got out of my windup definitely helped me, so I can see the logic of using the body more in the windup perhaps reducing arm stress. The downside could be the difficulty in repeating the delivery, leading to inconsistency. I’m certainly no expert though.

        • andrew

          As anecdotal support to your theory/question, I tore my labrum in high school pitching with a slow delibrate windup followed by an explosive finish. I’ve always attributed the injury to throwing too many curveballs in a 3 game span after not having pitched for 8 months, though, so I’m not sure if it old- school windups are any safer.

  • Chris

    I find this pretty surprising. Yes, he’s sucked this year, but last year he was still pretty good. If they’re going to eat his whole contract anyway, then it seems like it would be better to try to fix whatever is wrong – it’s not like he’s been bad for a number of years in a row.

    • Zach

      We always complain that guys with high salaries get playing time when they dont deserve it, they felt they had better options then Ryan so they cut him loose. Bad business move? Sure. Bad baseball move? Guess it’ll depend if Ryan returns with another team

  • Bill

    Can we say Damaso Marte? Sounds like we got our own BJ Ryan Right now.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Damaso Marte’s 2009-2011 contract: 3 yrs, 12M
      B.J. Ryan’s 2006-2010 contract: 5 yrs, 47M

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Oh, and:

        Damaso Marte’s career ERA+ when we signed him: 142
        B.J. Ryan’s career ERA+ when Riccardi signed him: 126

        • jsbrendog
        • http://forums.projectcovo.com/images/smilies/e6omir.gif OmgZombies!

          Salaries aside

          Marte as a Yankee
          ERA 7.61 ERA+ 58 WHIP 1.521
          Ryan as A Blue Jay
          ERA 2.95 ERA+149 WHIP 1.197

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            Thanks for summing up the entirety of Damaso Marte’s career by using the worst 23.2 of his 433 career innings pitched, including the 5 innings this year where he was most assuredly pitching hurt.

            Small Sample Size FTW!

            • http://forums.projectcovo.com/images/smilies/e6omir.gif OmgZombies!

              Oh spare me. Hes been terrible as a Yankee so far. No amount of “previous work” can defend that. Might he get better sure, but currently hes been extremely disappointing.

              Selective stats FTL!

              • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                He’s been a Yankee for like the baseball equivalent of a few minutes.

                If you don’t have patience and perspective, baseball is not the sport for you. It will drive you crazy.

                • http://forums.projectcovo.com/images/smilies/e6omir.gif OmgZombies!

                  Just because someone disagrees with your doesn’t mean they are wrong. You clearly did not comprehend what I wrote. I said so far be has been disappointing. Which is true, I never said he was a crappy reliever and would be.

                  I feel like I’m arguing with Francesa

                  MARTE IS A TOP RELIVA!

                • jsbrendog

                  plus he has not been terrible as a yankee as a whle after that 3 inning mistake las year where he got hurt he was lights out for the rest of the year. but you choos to ignore that don’t you

                • Zach

                  So were you one of those fans who was calling Texeira a bust after hitting .200 in April?

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  I never said he hasn’t been disappointing as a Yankee so far.

                  What I am saying is, he’s a good relief pitcher. He’s got the track record to prove it. So, when he’s healthy, he’s very likely going to pitch quite well for us.

                  Patience and perspective. Patience and perspective.

                • http://forums.projectcovo.com/images/smilies/e6omir.gif OmgZombies!

                  Lol why would I ignore a bad outing? Where did I call him a bust.

                  LMAO @ this

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  So were you one of those fans who was calling Texeira a bust after hitting .200 in April?

                  Zach, I’m not sure if you were asking me or OmgZombies!, but the answer is no, neither of us were calling Tex a bust in April.

                • jsbrendog

                  on Aug 4th marte gave up 4 runs.

                  from aug 5th-sept 28 in 20 games and in 13.2 innings only gave up 5 runs walked 6 and k’ed 16. he gave up only 8 hits in that stretch.

                • Zach

                  it was towards OmgZombies, and backing up your point.
                  Marte and Tex have had years of performance to prove they are good players. One month (for Tex) or 23 innings (for Marte) doesnt erase their past all of the sudden

                • jsbrendog

                  but again as i said above you only 10 of those innings, or 9.1 tehcnically, were bad. look at what the guy did his last 13.2 innings of the year.

              • Ed

                Selective stats FTL!

                Says the guy focusing on 23.2 innings of a 478 inning career while ignoring the injuries during those 23.2 innings…

    • Zach

      because he’s a lefty reliever whos on the DL? great comparision

    • http://forums.projectcovo.com/images/smilies/e6omir.gif OmgZombies!

      Atleast Ryan had a good year with the Blue Jays

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        http://riveraveblues.com/2009/06/fan-confidence-poll-june-8th-2009-12861/#comment-419755

        Damaso Marte, pre-NYY, career:
        2002 – 2.83 ERA in 60.1 IP, 159 ERA+, 1.028 WHIP
        2003 – 1.58 ERA in 79.2 IP, 292 ERA+, 1.054 WHIP
        2004 – 3.42 ERA in 73.2 IP, 138 ERA+, 1.222 WHIP
        2005 – 3.77 ERA in 45.1 IP, 119 ERA+, 1.721 WHIP
        2006 – 3.70 ERA in 58.1 IP, 120 ERA+, 1.406 WHIP
        2007 – 2.38 ERA in 45.1 IP, 183 ERA+, 1.103 WHIP
        2008 – 3.47 ERA in 46.2 IP, 119 ERA+, 1.157 WHIP

        [ Damaso Marte Is A Really Good Relief Pitcher Name Drop #9 of 1000 ]

        • Tank Foster
          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside
            • jsbrendog
              • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                “The URL contained a malformed video ID.”

                Apparently, no, you can’t, jsb.

                Epic FAIL.

                • jsbrendog

                  no i did that on purpose. youtube is blocked here. i couldnt open what you put so i just typed random numbers and letters.

                  EPIC AWESOME!

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  no i did that on purpose. youtube is blocked here. i couldnt open what you put so i just typed random numbers and letters.
                  EPIC AWESOME!

                  http://www.instantcrickets.com

                • Mattingly’s Love Child

                  LMAO

                • jsbrendog

                  genius is most always misunderstood

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  genius is most always misunderstood

                  http://www.instantcrickets.com

            • Tank Foster

              Haa!! Let the youtube games begin!
              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uqxo1SKB0z8

        • http://forums.projectcovo.com/images/smilies/e6omir.gif OmgZombies!

          So were just going to ignore his craptacular stats as a Yankees?

          I love selective stats!!!

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            It’s not selective stats. You are the one using selective stats. You’re selecting the 23 innings he pitched poorly to ignore the 409 innings where he pitched excellently. I’m correcting your imbalance.

            Quoting myself:

            Now, which dataset looks like the outlier and which looks like the norm, the first 409.1 innings of quality relief work with ERA’s in the 2’s and 3’s and WHIP’s around a single baserunner an inning, or the last 23.2 innings here where he went through an adjustment period, had one bad game where he got shelled that skewed his small sample size results, and has been pitching injured for the last 22% of that small sample size?

            And, quoting myself again:

            He’s been a Yankee for like the baseball equivalent of a few minutes. If you don’t have patience and perspective, baseball is not the sport for you. It will drive you crazy.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    I can’t wait to read this exact same post again on July 9th, 2010 when the Mets give Oliver Perez his outright release.

    • I Remember Celerino Sanchez

      IETCVM

    • Mattingly’s Love Child

      I felt bad for Ollie last night. He pitched terrible and got lucky, but Sutcliffe was on the air just flogging him about the waste of talent he is. Basically he was accusing him of mailing it in and not trying. I know the guy signed a crazy contract, and pitches for the Mets, but it’s not like he’s trying to suck out there. The guy is completely clueless and has no idea where the ball is going 75% of the time. It’s Omar’s fault for giving him all that money. But that’s just Sut…. I strongly dislike him.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        I agree with you and disagree with Sutcliffe.

        I think Ollie is trying really hard to pitch well. It’s not an issue of effort. Just talent.

        He just sucks.

  • rbizzler

    I thnk the best part of that old post by Joe (outside of the ‘gamer’ comment, of course) is this comment:

    “How many pitchers have come to the yanks in the last couple of years and simply couldn’t handle the pressure?

    I think that we need to look at another factor when signing players: Big Balls factor. If they have the balls, guts, and spirit to handle NY. Jeter has it. Clemens had it. El Duque had it. Andy Pettitte. Jeff Weaver definately did not have it.

    Not too sound too new age, but how do you rate a players “Inner Strength”?
    Thomas | 11.18.05 – 10:20 pm |”

    Big Balls Factor!? I love it. I heard that the good folks at BP are work ing on a metric to measure BBF as we speak. I can’t wait.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      I like this line:

      Maybe the Yanks can work Pavano in a 3-way trade to get Rowand.

      As long as it’s wasn’t going to be followed by drastically overpaying for Rowand when he hit the market, Brian Sabean-style, I would have approved of that three way.

      I tend to approve of most three-ways.

      • rbizzler

        You should see Rowand’s BBF, it is off the charts. Just a massive set of balls on that guy.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside
          • rbizzler

            What happened to our adpopted policy of labeling URL’s as SFW of NSFW. I am assuming that the Daily Show should be all good, but you never know.

            I will check it later in the privacy and comfort of my lair.

      • Mattingly’s Love Child

        I tend to approve of most three-ways.

        That’s what you WISH she said!

  • gio

    Funny Riccardi story, and, believe it or not, 100% true: a few years ago (I think September 2005), I was sitting on the first base line about 5 rows away from the field during a game against Toronto. Apparently, the Blue Jays execs were sitting in the same section because I recognized Riccardi. At the end of the 5th, he got up and started to walk up the aisle past me. I called out his name and got his attention, and he looked surprised that some random fan had recognized him. So a he’s looking at me, I ask him, “Hey JP, how does Bubba Crosby for Vernon Wells sound?” His response: “Yeah, as soon as I start snorting coke again.” This may explain alot.

    • Rob in CT

      That’s a pretty funny response from JP. And the correct one. Bubba!

  • MattG

    This was the offseason when Labatts (or was it Roger’s?) upped Ricciardi’s allowance, and he went and spent it on candy. Overpriced, common candy.

  • JimT

    B.J. Ryan is just the most recent example of the dangers of big ticket FA signings. Building a team through too many FA is a tricky, fickle business.

    One of the things that concerns me about trading for Roy Halliday is that you are almost compelled to extend his contract as a way of justifying giving up prospects. A veteran pitcher in his mid to late 30s is high risk.

    If I was a fellow GM I wouldn’t be too quick to accomidate J.P. Riccardi. That guy has created a finacial mess for the Blue Jays, it might be that you can get some of the Blue Jays better players (if you want them) just by taking on thier contracts. My gut is that the Red Sox and Yankees are going to sit tight and wait for a bargain.

  • Rob in CT

    I remember being very scared the Yankees would sign Ryan. You didn’t have to be a pitching coach to watch him and figure he was gonna blow out his elbow.

  • Bo

    It’s better for us if JPR stays employed.

  • Pingback: Around the Yankee Universe: The train keeps rolling

  • Pingback: YankeesVine » Blog Archive » Around the Yankee Universe: The train keeps rolling