What Went Wrong with Carlos Ruiz?

I know, the title implies that Carlos Ruiz had a bad season, which he didn’t. But he did significantly drop off in offense compared to his 2010 season. In terms of OPS relative to the National League average, Ruiz was 20 percent worse, dropping from .857 to .754.

Last December, I crunched the numbers and concluded Ruiz’s offensive output last season was fluky based on his BABIP and where those hits were falling. I wrote:

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.

Ruiz finished with a .332 wOBA, not bad. His BABIP on ground balls declined by more than 30 points. Given that he hit 151 ground balls in total during the 2011 regular season, the decline resulted in five fewer hits than he would have had last year. His luck on fly balls and line drives remained about the same.

More importantly, his batting average on batted balls to left field declined by more than 100 points, from .413 to .311. You can see the shift in the following heat maps, which show his BABIP on all hits to left field. (Click to enlarge)

Starting with 2010:

2011:

Ruiz overall made worse contact than he did last year. While his overall batted ball rates did not change much, his infield fly rate nearly doubled from 7.2 percent last year to 13.3 percent in 2011. The jump doesn’t have a significantly adverse effect on his batted ball fortunes because of the overall small number of infield flies (18), but it does illustrate the decline in quality of contact from last year.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever see Ruiz as productive as he was in 2010 unless he makes significant changes. He is a guy with mediocre power that will walk about as much as he will strike out and his offense should suffice at a very demanding position. The Ruiz you saw in 2009 and ’11 (.337 and .332 in terms of wOBA) is what should be expected going forward.

Heat maps courtesy ESPN Stats & Information