Carlos Ruiz Walking the Walk

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.

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19 comments

  1. Phillies Red

    May 04, 2010 04:08 PM

    So you don’t see any compelling reason to bat him higher in the order? I completely agree that his walks are very much tied to his batting position, but your point about his approach – let’s call it professional – is well taken. Wouldn’t a patient approach look just as good higher in the order?

  2. Bill Baer

    May 04, 2010 04:11 PM

    I’d first want to see evidence that he can swing the bat enough to warrant a higher position. A SLG in the .300’s isn’t going to cut it.

    I would not be opposed to flip-flopping him with Juan Castro, but ultimately I don’t think it’s worth it unless the Phillies know that Jimmy Rollins isn’t going to be back for a while (i.e. more than a month).

  3. Chris

    May 04, 2010 08:06 PM

    Hi Bill,

    Couldn’t the increased walk rate be a product of him not swinging at pitches outside of the zone and therefore his higher BABIP could be more of a direct result of his swinging at better pitches and theoretically getting a better swing on the ball? I’m not saying that all of the improvement in BABIP is due to his improved patience, but its certainly something to think about.

    It might be nice to see what percentage of pitches he saw were strikes last year to see if he is actually seeing less strikes this year.

  4. Aaron H

    May 04, 2010 09:01 PM

    Way to go Chooch! Stick it to Bill and ISO.

  5. KDOG

    May 04, 2010 09:06 PM

    HEYYYYYYY Great article – Guess who just hit a walk of home run in the 10th… the guy whos’ “yet to hit a home run”…

  6. Tyler

    May 04, 2010 09:39 PM

    Absolutely phenomenal article, and blog in general Bill. I love baseball, and have taken a strong interest in Sabermetrics and this blog satisfies both perfectly. I do love that Ruiz chose tonight to hit his first home run of the season. He’s not flashy but I’ll take Ruiz behind the plate any day of the week.

  7. Jake

    May 04, 2010 09:46 PM

    what is up with the ice cream thing and ruiz. everybody talks about it but nobody explains it.

  8. Phil

    May 05, 2010 12:08 AM

    So Bill, care to post an entry on how awful Kendrick is? Maybe the reverse black cat will happen again!

  9. Murgatroid

    May 05, 2010 02:55 AM

    Well, he did hit that triple today, and it was to left-center. so maybe you’re on to something there too. I think it was a fastball too, but I can’t really remember.

  10. David

    May 05, 2010 08:13 AM

    I’m with Phil.

    Might be a good time for a Kyle Kendrick post…

    @Murgatroid

    Raul also drew a couple of walks. He had a nice approach last night.

  11. Bill

    May 05, 2010 10:27 AM

    Why would you not bat Ruiz higher? He’s inarguably better than Castro.

  12. Ryan

    May 05, 2010 10:58 AM

    @Bill – I think what Baer was saying was essentially, why move the order around if Jimmy is close to coming back.

    If Castro were in the line up for a long term, then yeah, you would probably look to slide Chooch into the 7 hole, but, if Jimmy is back in a week or two, essentially you are asking him to move (and change roles) for a week, and then will just be moving him right back to the 8 hole when Jimmy returns.

    Chooch has settled in nicely. I think he’s a solid receiver and have been defending him defensively for a while over on the message board, but he’s always shown those glimpses (esp in the playoffs) of a solid offensive approach. He seems to be getting a better understanding of what it takes to hit in the 8 hole, and what pitchers/teams are trying to do with him with the pitcher on deck.

    With all that progress in that direction, I’d like to see him stay there and continue to improve rather than slide him up and start all over again.

  13. Mark

    May 05, 2010 11:00 AM

    Bill Baer: Keep up the posts about players! Apparently it helps!

    Bill: You don’t bat Ruiz higher because you want him in the 8 spot to turn the lineup over should he come up with 2 outs. You don’t want to start an inning off with the pitcher batting. Even if the inning ends at the 7 hole, the next inning you start off with Chooch and if he gets on the pitcher can sac bunt.

  14. Dan

    May 05, 2010 11:05 AM

    i’m a big fan of saber metrics, just starting to understand it. i like it as a tool, but not an end all be all of player evaluation. do saber metrics ever predict players will get better (like chooch) seems to be? it seems like its only used to tell us how some guy is declining or performing above is norm and will eventually go back. or maybe its just phillies who are declining and regressing to the norm. who is a player on our club who saber metrics tell us is getting better. from a casual fans untrained observations, chooch seems to be on a jorge posada track – improving his PAs as he *gasp* gets older.

  15. Bill Baer

    May 05, 2010 11:45 AM

    Dan,

    Cole Hamels has been horribly unappreciated by casual Phillies fans, but Sabermetrics has thought highly of him last year and so far this year.

    Ryan Madson is another example, as is David Herndon.

  16. Ryan

    May 05, 2010 11:48 AM

    @Dan

    chooch can be an interesting case study. He wasn’t made a catcher until later in his minor league career, and he wasn’t promoted to the bigs until later (in age) than most guys who are term prospects.

    Chooch is one of those “young” 30 yr olds who, by all accounts, is still learning.

    According to baseball-reference, he didn’t catch 100 games in a season until he was 27. He posted 34,43,60, 59, 86, 56, and 79 games behind the plate in the minors.

    Now he hit, a bunch, in the minors – and showed some good numbers that some thought would translate well to the majors.

    He hit .284, .300, and .307 in his last 3 years and his obp increased each of his last 3 years all the way up to .389 in his final year in Scranton. Not bad for a minor league catcher.

  17. David

    May 06, 2010 05:52 PM

    Ibañez crushed a 416 foot home run today, and with Ruiz going 3 for 4 he’s now got the highest OBP in the NL at .449. Maybe, Bill, you’re just “lucky”? ;)

    On a more serious note – might another benefit from batting lower in the order be fewer plate appearances? Catchers already get worn down by their position; fewer at bats might end up meaning quality over quantity. (One of my favorite examples of this is Cal Ripken’s performance in 1999, after ending his streak and recovering from injury.)

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