Phillies-Cubs Game Thread 5/16/12

The Phillies travel for a quick two-game road trip in Chicago before heading back home for their first inter-league series with the Boston Red Sox. It’s an odd bit of scheduling that will also end their season series with the Cubs, perhaps thankfully so. The Cubs took two of three from the Phillies at the end of April, outscoring them 10-2 in their two victories behind starters Paul Maholm and Matt Garza. Garza (3.45 xFIP) is back on the bump tonight, opposing right-hander Kyle Kendrick (5.35), now filling in for the injured Vance Worley. The Phillies are currently on their first three-game winning streak of the season and have made it all the way back to one game under .500. A short series sweep would take them over .500 for the first time since Opening Day.

Lineups

Phillies

Cubs

Carlos Ruiz, Unsung Hero

Ruiz, Offensive Ranking
(min. 60 PA) 
Team NL C
wOBA 1 1
ISO 1 3
fWAR 1 4
K% 3 4
BABIP 3 5

Through 37 games thus far in 2012, catcher Carlos Ruiz has been the Phillies’ best and most consistent position player. Given his personal progression and the roadblocks the rest of the team has faced recently, it isn’t all that surprising, even though the Phillies signed him as an amateur free agent way back in December 1998 for the princely sum of $8,000.

If you set the minimum at 60 PA, Ruiz leads the team by far with a .408 wOBA. He already has six home runs, matching his total from all of 2011, and puts him on pace to surpass his career-high of nine (set in 2009) some time in the next month. Although he hasn’t walking as much as he has in the past, he’s averaging more than 10 PA per strikeout, which means he is putting the ball in play with regularity.

One out of every five of Ruiz’s fly balls have gone for home runs, nearly three times his career average. Generally, when a hitter’s HR/FB% is so far above his career norms, it means he is likely due to regress going forward. However, it does appear that Ruiz simply has better plate coverage this year as well. Compare the two heat maps from 2011 and ’12:

And also compare his swings between the two years:

The most noticeable difference is that Ruiz’s leg kick is much smaller this year.

As a result, Ruiz was in a better position to swing once his foot came back down to the ground.

I’m not a biomechanics expert by any means, but to me, I see a significant change — one that might explain his current success. Does this mean we should expect him to continue driving one out of every five fly balls over the fence? No, but we can realistically expect him to exceed his career average of seven percent. More importantly, we can expect him to continue being the linchpin of the Phillies’ offense even when — if — Chase Utley and Ryan Howard return.