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Ryan McKenna deserves your respect

The Orioles’ fourth outfielder is doing a very solid job.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Baltimore Orioles Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Picture the scene: a floppy hat-wearing Joey Krehbiel is kicking around a baseball as if it’s a hacky sack with Bryan Baker while Ryan McKenna, standing nearby, tries to do the same, solo, with a football. “No one plays with Mac,” says Krehbiel. “He’s got no friends.”

Krehbiel was kidding, but reserve outfielder/late-innings pinch runner Ryan McKenna is one of the most overlooked members on the Orioles (unless a fan is complaining about him). Just a few days ago, MASN ran a story on McKenna’s being a “dugout booster” who gets “constant praise from manager Brandon Hyde for the spirit and energy he brings to the [team] when he is not playing.”

Ouch. Like getting the participation trophy.

But let’s stop to appreciate one fact: Ryan McKenna is actually very good at his job.

There’s a couple of ways to break down that assessment.

One is with reference to Orioles reserve outfielders of the recent past. Consider whether you’d rather have Ryan McKenna playing in right field or … DJ Stewart (0.0 career WAR), Stevie Wilkerson (-1.3 WAR), Dwight Smith Jr. (-0.8 WAR), Mason Williams (-0.4 WAR), or Joey Rickard (1.4 WAR).

If that’s not the most flattering comparison, here’s another—the other current Oriole defenders who could be manning the outfield right now: Trey Mancini (-12 defensive runs saved over parts of four seasons as an outfielder), Ryan Mountcastle (-5 DRS over parts of two), or even Anthony Santander (nominated for a Gold Glove in 2020, but a lot slower since then, with -4 DRS this season).

There’s a reason that Brandon Hyde, whenever he has the chance, subs in Mac for these guys when the game is on the line. Even with his limited innings so far this season, McKenna has already saved the Orioles six runs—he probably saved two with this play alone against the Yankees on July 23, prompting MASN’s Kevin Brown to call bringing him in “the defensive replacement of the season.”

McKenna’s offense, which often elicits moans and groans, hasn’t been bad either: his OPS+ of 88 is just 12 percent below league average—which, for a reserve outfielder with a great glove, is not bad. He’s improved a lot on his 2021 numbers with more regular plate appearances: from a .183 batting average in 90 games last year to an average of .255 in 64 games. Sure, the power won’t bowl you over: McKenna’s OPS of .662 is, well, low. But especially for that reason, McKenna’s first and only home this season, a screamer over the top of Mt. Walltimore, was a straight-out-of-Rudy moment. (Aww.)

Maybe the most useful point of comparison for illustrating Ryan McKenna’s value is other fourth outfielder types. Let’s focus on just the other teams of the AL East (which saves me work, but which is also useful as a point of comparison, because it’s the best division in baseball).

From a quick survey of the chart, you see a few things. There’s a lot of guys here who are OF/DH types, like Giancarlo Stanton and Harold Ramírez. These are better bats, but otherwise, McKenna is clearly holding his own in this group.

AL East Fourth Outfielders

Player Team Innings as OF OPS DRS as OF WAR
Player Team Innings as OF OPS DRS as OF WAR
Ryan McKenna BAL 244.1 .662 6 0.8
Franchy Cordero BOS 180.2 .652 -1 -0.3
Jarren Duran BOS 255 .704 -5 0
Christian Arroyo BOS 108 .640 -5 -0.3
Rob Refsnyder BOS 166 .913 0 0.9
Manuel Margot TBR 310.2 .788 0 1.4
Josh Lowe TBR 331.1 .587 3 0.1
Harold Ramirez TBR 125.1 .825 1 1.4
Vidal Bruján (40-man) TBR 85 .477 -1 -0.6
Raimel Tapia TOR 565.1 .726 -6 0.1
Bradley Zimmer TOR 261.2 .452 2 -0.2
Marwin González NYY 128 .657 2 0.8
Miguel Andújar (40-man) NYY 106 .555 3 0.2
Tim Locastro NYY 65 .801 0 0.2
Giancarlo Stanton NYY 312.2 .807 0 1.1

A few of the low performers on this list—Vidal Bruján, Miguel Andújar—have been optioned. That’s interesting because both of these players got decent playing time, and because both are more heralded ballplayers than McKenna.

In the meantime, McKenna’s 6 defensive runs saved are tops on this list, making him one of the best reserve gloves in the AL East. And his 0.8 WAR in 244 innings compares similarly or favorably with guys getting regular playing time like Boston’s Jarren Duran, Toronto’s Raimel Tapia and Tampa Bay’s Josh Lowe. He’s also just 25.

So don’t leave Ryan McKenna playing by himself with a football. The guy has brought a lot to this team, much more than dugout cheerleading. Much like the rest of the 2022 Orioles, he deserves a little respect.