Projecting Carlos Ruiz

An interesting yet brief discussion arose in the comments of my post yesterday on the Phillies’ lineup construction. Nik rightfully asked why I didn’t include Ruiz’s numbers after his 25-game suspension in my analysis. After making the adjustment, we discussed the merits of the surprisingly small three-run difference between a full season of Erik Kratz (projected .312 wOBA) and 120 games from Chooch (projected .340). I wrote:

[...] the general perception of Ruiz is probably a bit biased by his ridiculously good 2012 (.398 wOBA). His career average is .340.

Ruiz is now 34 years old, and 34-year-old catchers are rarely as productive as Ruiz was last season. He had a 149 adjusted OPS according to Baseball Reference, making him one of only four catchers all-time — and one of two since 1956 — to post an adjusted OPS of 145 or better at the age of 33 or older (min. 400 PA, 75% of games at catcher).

Player Year OPS+ PA Age Tm
Carlos Ruiz 2012 149 421 33 PHI
Jorge Posada 2007 153 589 35 NYY
Roy Campanella 1955 152 522 33 BRO
Gabby Hartnett 1937 158 405 36 CHC
Gabby Hartnett 1935 151 461 34 CHC
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/29/2013.

To say that 2012 was a career year for Ruiz, whose previous career-high wOBA was .368 and whose career average is .340, is an understatement. His batted ball rates went in all the right directions (though likely unsustainable):

  • Set a career-high with a .339 BABIP, one of only two seasons in which his BABIP exceeded .310
  • Set a career-low with an infield pop-up rate below six percent, well below 2011′s 13 percent and his career average nine percent
  • Set a career-high as 15 percent of his fly balls were home runs, ahead of 2011′s four percent and his sub-eight percent career average

In looking at his plate discipline and ground ball/fly ball ratios, not much changed from 2011 to 2012. He hit slightly fewer fly balls and slightly more line drives, but not enough to be statistically significant, and line drive rate isn’t very reliable in the first place. He saw similar amounts of pitches in the strike zone and swung at them at roughly the same rate. He saw similar amounts of fastballs and similar amounts of off-speed pitches as in 2011. Yet his isolated power jumped from .100 in 2011 (and .143 career) to .215.

There are very few catchers who have experienced such a power surge in recent times. Since 1990, there have been only 20 catchers that have posted a .200 or higher isolated power at the age of 30 or older. Two of them you’d expect: Mike Piazza and Jorge Posada, who had a handful of qualifying seasons. Two of them occurred last season: Ruiz and A.J. Pierzynski. Others to have multiple seasons include Chris Hoiles, Darren Daulton, Jason Varitek, and Mike Stanley. I took out all the repeat offenders and looked at players who had one year with a very high ISO. Here are the results, and a look at their ISO the following season:

nyISO = next year ISO
ROChigh = rest of career high ISO

Player Tm Year Age PA ISO nyISO ROChigh
Benito Santiago PHI 1996 31 533 .239 .144 .172
Charles Johnson COL 2003 31 414 .225 .193 .193
Ed Taubensee CIN 1999 30 461 .210 .113 .113
Ivan Rodriguez TEX 2002 30 440 .228 .176 .176
Javy Lopez ATL 2003 32 495 .359 .187 .187
Mickey Tettleton DET 1991 30 608 .228 .230 .273
Miguel Olivo KCR 2009 30 416 .241 .180 .180
Mike Macfarlane KCR 1996 32 419 .224 .163 .163
Ramon Hernandez BAL 2006 30 560 .204 .124 .164
Sandy Alomar CLE 1997 31 480 .222 .117 .226
Terry Steinbach OAK 1996 34 571 .257 .145 .168
Todd Hundley LAD 1999 30 428 .229 .294 .294

Only two of the 12 listed catchers posted a better ISO the following season, while the other ten declined by no fewer than 32 points. Seven of the 12 never posted a better ISO than they did the year after, as they continued to decline and eventually retire.

Is there a reason to believe Ruiz is an outlier like Tettleton and Hundley? Ruiz has only displayed such power once (previous career-high ISO was .171 in 2009), while Tettleton had already posted a .251 ISO in 1989 and .185 in ’86. Hundley had four consecutive seasons with a .200 or better ISO from 1994-97.

Tettleton and Hundley also struck out a lot, each with a 23 percent career average strikeout rate compared to Ruiz’s 11 percent. Avoiding strikeouts is great, but taking big cuts is a big part of consistently hitting for power. Using data from 2010-12 with a sample size of 230 players, I found roughly a .2 r-square between strikeout rate and isolated power. Among those hitters, Ruiz had the 29th-lowest strikeout rate, and among those 29 hitters, he had the seventh-highest ISO. Among the 30 hitters with the highest strikeout rate, nearly half (14) had an ISO above .200.

ZiPS sees Ruiz’s ISO dropping down to .149, and as such there is a projected wOBA decline as well, from .398 to .340. His 2012 was certainly fun to watch, but there aren’t any reasons to expect him to continue it going forward, particularly given his age and his plantar fasciitis injury.

How well do you think Carlos Ruiz will hit in 2013, in terms of wOBA?

  • .330-.349 (40%, 144 Votes)
  • .350-.369 (29%, 106 Votes)
  • Below .330 (20%, 74 Votes)
  • .370-.389 (6%, 22 Votes)
  • .390 or above (5%, 16 Votes)

Total Voters: 362

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42 comments

  1. thatguy

    January 30, 2013 08:20 AM

    pop some addie, i’m flexin! woooooooooo

  2. Ryan

    January 30, 2013 09:15 AM

    I find it interesting that Ruiz has so many fewer plate appearances than most of the guys on that list. I’m wondering if that low mileage has contributed to his ability to have a late career rennaisance at the plate? I agree with Cutter that most of those guys were aided by the juice to post those ISOs.

  3. bliz

    January 30, 2013 09:32 AM

    I certainly am not expecting for Chooch to go on the tear he was on last year, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he outperforms the Zips projections. If you look at his career, there is a fairly significant difference between his age 27-29 seasons (.242/.329/.359) and his 30-33 seasons (.292/.369/.448). Like a fine wine, Chooch has gotten better with age.

  4. JM

    January 30, 2013 09:35 AM

    It’s funny how 4 extra home runs is a surge in power. If his swing rates are similar, then there should be a correlation to the parks and wind conditions that his extra home runs came from. Or his pitch recognition improved to the point where his big cuts resulted in better results. Did the addie help him recognize those pitches? if so, I’ll write the team an Rx today. Imagine if Ryan Howard could actually recognize a slider……

  5. pedro3131

    January 30, 2013 10:00 AM

    I think there might be something there between Ryan and Bliz’s comments. Is the correlation stronger between age or PA’s? And does the plate appearances limited to the majors (I would think not) so does a relatively few amount of major league PA for his age matter?

    Side note: Happy trails to Brian Schneider, thanks for the memories.

  6. Ben

    January 30, 2013 11:03 AM

    Bill, an r-squared value of 0.2 is very low so there isn’t much correlation between ISO and strikeout rate

  7. LTG

    January 30, 2013 11:17 AM

    1. There’s no correlation between shelf-life and late call-ups. It would be rather difficult to establish given the data set and the amount of noise in it, anyway. But it doesn’t really make sense. MiLB is only slightly less hard on bodies than MLB, and aging is still aging.

    2. The .340 wOBA projection is that high *because* it heavily weights, or only uses, Ruiz’s numbers from 2009-2012. We shouldn’t expect him to outhit his projection because he has been better in his 30s than he was in his 20s.

    3. We might expect him to retain some of his gains in production because he made a change to his swing last season. As this site showed, Ruiz shortened his preparation by keeping his foot down when he steps. This probably increased his ability to recognize pitches and center the ball on his barrel. How much is not clear. And even that it is the difference maker is not clear. But it is possible, and the best reason we have to expect Ruiz’s ISO to stay up.

  8. LTG

    January 30, 2013 11:20 AM

    What Ben says was precisely what I was thinking when I read that paragraph. I find that experiment rather confusing. What light, if any, does it shed on Ruiz’s performance?

  9. LTG

    January 30, 2013 11:21 AM

    Hmmmm… that question sounds argumentative. What I meant is that I trust you had a point in mind but I can’t reconstruct it from what you wrote in the paragraph. So, could you please expand on it?

  10. Bill Baer

    January 30, 2013 11:24 AM

    Baseball Prospectus found a similar correlation with a larger, broader sample size:

    www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=2617

    While it might not be overwhelming, there is a distinct, positive correlation between an individual’s strikeout rate and a number of useful attributes: hitting for power-as represented in this case by isolated power (ISO, or slugging percentage minus batting average) and slugging percentage (SLG)-as well as drawing walks-as represented by walk-rate (BB/PA). Of course, causation is a sticky subject, so try not to misinterpret the above data as “proof” that increased strikeouts cause an improvement in a player’s secondary skills. It’s just that where one group shows up, often so does the other.

    EDIT: Posted this in response to Ben before I saw LTG’s comments. My point is that it would be easier to believe Ruiz’s 2012 power surge was legitimate if he actually took the kind of swings that generate a lot of power (and make contact less as a result), as Tettleton and Hundley did.

    I don’t mean to say that IF Ruiz strikes out more, THEN his power will go up. It’s quite possible to hit for power without striking out a lot, like Albert Pujols, but those players are very rare and I think it’s safe to say that Ruiz is not one of them.

  11. Phillie697

    January 30, 2013 11:31 AM

    You don’t stop aging just because you weren’t playing much baseball. I think that’s something ALL of us should have first-hand experience with.

  12. Ryan

    January 30, 2013 11:55 AM

    Ruiz didn’t turn into a catcher until later in his career. Plate appearances as a catcher would be the statistic that I’m interested in…not just general plate appearances. No–you don’t stop aging because you’re not playing much baseball, but your body will most likely hold up longer if you played catcher less at lower levels (i.e. less stress on the knees, less foul balls off various parts, etc). This additional stress from catching is most likely what leads to catchers breaking down prematurely.

  13. LTG

    January 30, 2013 12:00 PM

    BB,

    Is there anything to be made of Ruiz’s swing rate at pitches out of the strike-zone? It’s been increasing ever since 2009:
    08: 14
    09: 18
    10: 23
    11: 27
    12: 32
    (all truncated)

    Has Ruiz identified an off-the-plate power zone that he can exploit? Or, since his ISO doesn’t really correlate with the trend in O-Swing%, has Ruiz identified off-the-plate zones where he makes better contact? His BABIPs have been much better from 2009-2012 than they were from 2006-2008.

  14. LTG

    January 30, 2013 12:04 PM

    Right, but at 33/34 Ruiz is in the decline age for a typical non-catcher. Hell, even Pujols is in decline now. What Ruiz is doing is unusual for any player, not just for a catcher.

  15. Bill Baer

    January 30, 2013 12:10 PM

    Hmm.. there’s a discrepancy in our data sources. I’m assuming you’re using FanGraphs? The database we have access to is proprietary but didn’t show any notable changes in Ruiz’s swing rate at pitches out of the zone. The stat they have is Swings divided by Pitches out of the Strike Zone.

    (data goes back as far as 2009)
    2009: 21% // 52% total pitches in strike zone
    2010: 20% // 52%
    2011: 25% // 51%
    2012: 27% // 52%

    I don’t consider the 6% gap to be meaningful. He saw a little over 1,500 pitches in 2012, so the range covers less than 100 swings, only a fraction of which result in a ball put in play.

    As for zones, the bulk of his power came on pitches over the middle of the plate, and low-and-inside.

  16. LTG

    January 30, 2013 12:28 PM

    Sorry, I was looking at non-Pitch-f/x rates. The Pitch-f/x rates are in line with your rates, although slightly different. From 2008 to 2012 he shows ~13% percentage point increase (or ~100% more swings if pitches seen is treated as equal).

    I’m guessing there’s no fancy image to show how his BABIP looks throughout the zone. It is really his BABIP that has driven his increased value in his 30s (except last season).

  17. LTG

    January 30, 2013 12:51 PM

    Whelp.

  18. LTG

    January 30, 2013 12:53 PM

    Wow, he had fantastic plate coverage!

  19. LTG

    January 30, 2013 01:17 PM

    Probably by only swinging at pitches that far outside when he was guessing and diving over the plate.

  20. Ben

    January 30, 2013 01:44 PM

    Bill, expanding on my earlier comment, an r-squared of 0.2 means that only 20% of the variation in ISO is explained by variation in contact rate so I don’t think this connection holds very much weight in the discussion. The Baseball Prospectus article you linked to found an r-squared of 0.15 for ISO(even less). While it is non-zero it doesn’t have much meaning.

    Sorry for not really completing that thought earlier.

  21. Phillie697

    January 30, 2013 01:47 PM

    @Ryan,

    All that means that you can maybe expect a less drastic decline than otherwise as you age, doesn’t mean you’ll see NO decline. That’s where most fans can’t distinguish the difference. Aging is aging.

  22. Phillie697

    January 30, 2013 01:52 PM

    @BB and LTG,

    Look at both graphs. That outlier on the outside is also where some of the power came from. Interesting…

  23. Ben

    January 30, 2013 02:06 PM

    Okay, I guess I just don’t see the point of your connection between ISO and contact rate then

  24. Bill Baer

    January 30, 2013 02:08 PM

    Ruiz doesn’t take the kinds of swings that typically generate a consistent amount of power, because longer swings generate more power but also miss the baseball more often. It’s possible to ISO > .200 with low strikeouts, but it’s very rare and Ruiz hasn’t shown that kind of propensity before in his career, so the probability of his 2012 power being legitimate is very low.

  25. mike maguire

    January 30, 2013 03:37 PM

    still has to rank up with the better catchers from the Phillies for a lot of years ..and a great field general ….knew all the batters god and bad ……best of luck in whatever you do ,and thanks for all the good memorys

  26. Dave GAUNTT

    January 30, 2013 07:41 PM

    I’m so glad you don’t coach this team, or manage it.

  27. LTG

    January 30, 2013 07:59 PM

    Lots of trolls today, huh.

  28. LTG

    January 30, 2013 09:22 PM

    Yeah, I’d still take Dave GAUNTT’s irrational disagreement over pmonge’s combo of misogyny and misandery. The former is useless but harmless; the latter degrades the environment of discourse by trying to enforce exclusionary norms. I’d love to have a conversation among regular readers about whether posts like pmonge’s, which *seem* to fall just short of explicit bigotry, should be removed.

  29. SJHaack

    January 30, 2013 09:56 PM

    The only nit I have to pick with you is the “surprisingly small three-run difference” between Kratz and Ruiz. One of those is basically league average wOBA, and one is comfortably above it.

    If you wanted to extrapolate that same concept out, you can get all fuzzy and hand-wavy and go “Eh it’s basically just 3-3.5 runs difference between a season of Delmon Young and a season of Cody Ross. Rube’s basically coming out on the good side by signing on the cheap!”

  30. Phillie697

    January 30, 2013 10:35 PM

    @SJHaack,

    wOBA only measures offense. So unless you want to discount Chooch’s defense…

  31. sjhaack

    January 31, 2013 09:09 AM

    Phillie, not sure what you’re telling me? I’m (very gently) taking Bill to task for the original concept that the difference between Kratz and Ruiz’s offensive production is quite small and the same fuzzy logic you can use to justify a lot of bad moves the Phillies have made recently.

    If you want to harp on someone suggesting replacing Chooch with Kratz isn’t as big a deal as we all think I’d like to direct you to a guy I know on twitter, @crashburnalley.

  32. SJHaack

    January 31, 2013 12:22 PM

    Huh apparently the big thing I posted didn’t actually take, whoops.

    Fast recap: Phillie, well aware of what wOBA measures. Your complaint should be levered against Bill. I was merely pointing out that saying the difference in offensive production between Kratz and Chooch is fuzzy logic that could be applied to bad decisions the front office has made to fudge them or handwave them into not-so-bad.

    The discussion that resulted from that is way more interesting.

  33. Phillie697

    January 31, 2013 12:44 PM

    @SKHaack,

    That may be plausible if I actually believed RAJ knows what wOBA is :) “I don’t care about walks. I care about production.”

  34. SJHaack

    January 31, 2013 02:08 PM

    Oh it did take and somehow I didn’t see it. My apologies for saying the same thing basically twice.

    I’m dead sure Rube has no idea what wOBA is; just that using these handwavy arguments actually works in his favor because the water between bad moves and merely average ones starts to get muddied to the public.

  35. Bill Baer

    January 31, 2013 02:41 PM

    @ SJHaack

    Sorry, I should have posted a comment about that. Your comment for whatever reason got caught up in the spam filter, so I searched for it and approved it. The spam catcher sometimes screws up like that, so you (and anyone else reading this), please let me know if you post a comment and it doesn’t show up.

    We get thousands of spam comments a day, so it will likely get missed if you don’t point it out. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  36. Phillie697

    January 31, 2013 07:20 PM

    @SJHaack,

    Understood. Although the public’s lack of sufficient understanding of advanced metrics is probably unavoidable no matter how BB presents the data; the inability to realize that being better than another player by 0.3 WAR in just one aspect of one’s game is pretty good as it is.

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