Carlos Ruiz, Perpetual MVP

I’m not really a fan of slightly disingenuous blog titles myself, so I’ll get my apology for the one above out of the way right now: no, Carlos Ruiz is not always deserving of top-tier MVP consideration.

Boy, way to start on a downer, Paul. Alright, here’s what caught my eye early Thursday evening:

twitter.com/BoopStats/status/269231350047969281

That’s Bob Vetrone of the Philly Daily News dropping a fun bit of trivia. Who would have expected Carlos Ruiz to be one of three players included in such a list?

In reality, Chooch has never come all that close to actually winning the award, even in this, the best season of his career. The nature of the catching position often requires more days off – or, in the case of Joe Mauer and Buster Posey, the availability of first base or the DH slot – than can really be afforded in such an award race. His MVP finishes since 2010, thanks to a smattering of downballot votes, reads tied for 17th, tied for 23rd and now tied for 28th.

Since 2010, Ruiz has a cumulative .303/.388/.454 batting line, with 83 doubles, 31 homers and 161 RBI. He’s walked 132 times against 152 strikeouts, a .868 ratio that only 17 other batters can claim in at least 1,000 plate appearances during that time:

Rk   BB SO PA Age G
1 Albert Pujols 216 210 2021 30-32 460
2 Alberto Callaspo 145 149 1657 27-29 425
3 Carlos Lee 154 168 1917 34-36 459
4 Carlos Ruiz 132 152 1326 31-33 367
5 Chase Utley 145 153 1327 31-33 301
6 Chipper Jones 169 178 1341 38-40 333
7 Daric Barton 171 181 1102 24-26 272
8 Dustin Pedroia 171 183 1705 26-28 375
9 Ian Kinsler 205 218 1914 28-30 415
10 Jeff Keppinger 87 91 1393 30-32 351
11 Joe Mauer 187 179 1558 27-29 366
12 Joey Votto 295 339 1842 26-28 422
13 John Jaso 140 126 1038 26-28 306
14 Jose Bautista 291 290 1737 29-31 402
15 Juan Pierre 111 115 1884 32-34 448
16 Lance Berkman 183 197 1165 34-36 299
17 Miguel Cabrera 263 282 2033 27-29 472
18 Prince Fielder 306 328 2096 26-28 485
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/15/2012.

That list has its highs and lows, but the highs are pretty consistent.

An additional nugget that may not necessarily make Ruiz’s 2012 be any more impressive or contain some hidden meaning: Chooch hit .327/.399/.542 when defensively designated as catcher, which encompass all but 15 of his 421 total. Posey, this year’s recently coronated National League MVP, had 480 PA when designated as a catcher and hit .329/.398/.540. Particularly insightful that is not, amusingly similar it is.

Long story short, Ruiz’s emergence as a top-tier catcher (his 34.02 caught stealing percentage was good for 10th in the Majors this season, oh-by-the-way) may never stop being amazing, and any chance to give the man a little extra dap is one we should all take.

Cliff Lee Had A Pretty Good Season

Remember way back at the start of July, when Cliff Lee had yet to win a game? When the city of Philadelphia was bemoaning his five-year deal, begging for GM Ruben Amaro to send him to the Dodgers for the salary relief? Turns out Lee finished with some pretty good numbers.

I wrote this on June 25:

Prior to his last two starts — both seven-inning, 5 ER affairs — a legitimate non-Sabermetric case could have been made placing Lee in a very preliminary Cy Young discussion.

[…]

There is not one performance-based metric that is alarming regarding Cliff Lee. Yes, it is June 25 and he has zero wins and his ERA is just under 4.00, but such is life in small samples.

Lee finished with a 3.16 ERA despite a 6-9 record and should have been in line for at least a few votes at the back end of the NL Cy Young ballot, but he wasn’t so much as an afterthought on anyone’s ballot. Surprisingly, Lee’s numbers stack up very well among the starters that were mentioned:

  • Lee’s 7.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio was by far the best, far exceeding NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey‘s 4.3.
  • Lee’s 3.3 walk rate was the lowest of the group, better than Kyle Lohse‘s 4.4 percent.
  • Lee was the unluckiest on balls in play, with a .309 BABIP. Johnny Cueto‘s .296 was the second-highest.
  • Lee’s 3.00 SIERA was by far the lowest, besting Dickey’s 3.18 and teammate Cole Hamels‘ 3.22.
Name Team K/BB K% BB% BABIP LOB% SIERA
Cliff Lee Phillies 7.39 24.4 % 3.3 % .309 78.6 % 3.00
R.A. Dickey Mets 4.26 24.8 % 5.8 % .275 80.0 % 3.18
Cole Hamels Phillies 4.15 24.9 % 6.0 % .290 78.1 % 3.22
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 3.63 25.4 % 7.0 % .262 77.9 % 3.24
Gio Gonzalez Nationals 2.72 25.2 % 9.3 % .267 74.1 % 3.49
Matt Cain Giants 3.78 22.0 % 5.8 % .259 79.0 % 3.62
Johnny Cueto Reds 3.47 19.1 % 5.5 % .296 78.8 % 3.66
Kyle Lohse Cardinals 3.76 16.6 % 4.4 % .262 77.2 % 4.06

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the stat or would like a refresher, SIERA (Skill Interactive Earned Run Average) is a stat that attempts to remove factors out of a pitcher’s control to find out the underlying performance. Pitchers have a lot of control over three specific things: strikeouts, walks, and ground/fly balls (to a lesser extent, the quality of such contact as well). For example, Kyle Lohse had a 2.86 ERA but a 4.06 SIERA, implicating that Lohse was the benefactor of good fortune throughout his season. Indeed, Lohse had a .262 BABIP, nearly 50 points lower than Lee’s. Lee averaged a strikeout for one in every four batters faced while Lohse averaged one in every six batters; both were very stingy in the walks department.

Lee was hurt by a Phillies team that was subpar defensively, losing premier defenders in Chase Utley and Freddy Galvis for much of the season, and having to use mediocre defenders such as Ty Wigginton and Mike Fontenot. This impacted the amount of batted balls converted into outs, making some Phillies pitchers look worse than their performance indicated. When writers utilize stats such as won-lost record and ERA to evaluate pitchers, they are in effect punishing or rewarding pitchers for the quality of the defense behind them.

This isn’t to say that Lee should have actually won the award, as SIERA isn’t the be-all, end-all stat. ERA retrodictors in general seem to be a bit behind properly crediting pitchers with specific batted ball skills (e.g. Matt Cain, as I explained at Baseball Prospectus). But Lee’s won-lost record is still distracting people from appreciating what was otherwise a great season for the left-hander. The good news is that Lee will be back, ready to make another run at some hardware in 2013.