Can you guess who leads the Phillies in on-base percentage?
Yeah, it’s Chase Utley. Probably shouldn’t have made it that easy. How about who’s second behind Utley?
That would be Carlos Ruiz. That’s right: the #8 hitter, the catcher, has drawn 18 walks in 81 plate appearances. His OBP is just a shade behind Utley’s, .432 to .440. Utley leads the National League, but Ruiz is tied for fifth with the Dodgers’ Andre Ethier. Ruiz’s .432 OBP is 76 points higher than the current NL average of .356 for #8 hitters and 75 points higher than the .357 average for catchers.
Ruiz’s walk rate has increased every season since he came up to the Majors, from 6.4% in 2006 to 12.4% last year. Great numbers of course, but it’s highly unlikely that Ruiz will finish with a .400+ OBP given that he currently sports a .347 BABIP compared to a career average .266 and given that he is drawing walks at roughly 10% higher than his previous career high rate. Overall, though, this is a great sign from a player who had a 6.6% walk rate throughout his Minor League career.
Some of Ruiz’s non-intentional walks (16 of 18) are those “unintentional intentional walks” as he bats in front of a weak-hitting pitcher. 8 of his 18 walks have come in 22 plate appearances (36%) with two outs. 5 of his 18 walks have come in 13 plate appearances (38%) with two outs and runners in scoring position. There’s no doubt that Ruiz’s high walk rate is due to managers telling their pitchers to pitch around him to get to the pitcher.
Ruiz still has to draw the walks, though. Houston’s Humberto Quintero, also a catcher who hits eighth, has drawn exactly one walk in 33 PA in front of the pitcher. Washington’s Wil Nieves has drawn zero walks hitting eighth. Ruiz clearly understands the situation and accepts that the bat is being taken out of his hands, not unlike Barry Bonds circa 2002-04 (and thus concludes the only time you will ever see Ruiz compared to Bonds). As Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler will tell you, it’s good to get the pitcher out of the way with two outs in an inning so he isn’t leading off the next inning making an easy out.
The one thing we have not seen from Ruiz yet, perhaps as a result of not being able to swing as much, is power (this is where Ruiz and Bonds part ways). His .317 SLG is nearly 60 points lower than his career average and 108 points lower than it was last year. His isolated power (ISO = SLG – AVG) of .048 is eighth-worst in all of Major League Baseball. He has yet to hit a home run and his only extra-base hits are three doubles, just 18% of his total hits.
As pitchers realize that Ruiz and the Phillies are more than happy to take the free pass, Ruiz will start seeing more strikes to hit. He has seen only 58% of his pitches for strikes, counting swings (both whiff and contact).
For now, everyone in Philadelphia is ecstatic with Ruiz’s exceptional plate discipline and selflessness. He can have all the ice cream he wants.