Predicting Carlos Ruiz’s Offensive Output

By all accounts, Carlos Ruiz had a fantastic 2010 season. He played solid defense behind the plate, handled one of baseball’s best pitching staffs (including calling both the perfect game and no-hitter thrown by Roy Halladay), and had the fourth-highest wOBA among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances. FanGraphs credited him with about 4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which ranked third-best in the Majors.

Clearly, we should expect Ruiz to once again be among the game’s best backstops in 2011. Right?

I’m not so sure, for a couple reasons relating to his offense.

Carlos Ruiz BABIP
by Batted Ball Type
2010 Career
Ground 0.276 0.226
Fly 0.124 0.125
Line 0.765 0.707

For starters, Ruiz benefited from a .335 BABIP. While hitters have a lot of control over their BABIP, Ruiz’s previous high was .283 in 2007 and he has a career average .280. There was barely a change in his batted ball splits, so there is no legitimate explanation for such a large jump in BABIP. So what happened?

Compared to his career averages, Ruiz was five percent luckier on ground balls and six percent luckier on line drives. With 143 grounders and 64 line drives, that’s an extra 11 hits. It may not seem like a lot, but if those 11 hits were instead outs, Ruiz’s batting average would drop from .302 to .272.

Ruiz set a career high in slugging percentage, but it’s entirely explained by luck on balls in play. Ruiz’s isolated power (ISO) actually dropped 25 points to .146. Even more interesting was how Ruiz’s power shifted from the inside part of the plate to the outside.

2009 ISO on balls in play:

2010 ISO on balls in play:

(Heat maps via Baseball Analytics)

Overall, he was pitched almost exactly the same. The weird thing is, even though Ruiz’s power shifted to the outside part of the strike zone, he had tremendous success going to left field. Per FanGraphs, his career wOBA going to left field is .395. In 2010, that number sat at a lofty .509. Was it due to batted ball luck? You betcha! His career average BABIP to left is .295; last year, it was .413.

In 2011, you can count on Ruiz being the jewel of the pitching staff’s collective eye and playing decent defense. Expect his offensive output to regress significantly, to around the league average in the .325-.330 range. That is plenty good for a Phillies offense that will still be among the league’s best.