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Carlos Ruiz and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Season

Carlos Ruiz‘s season started on the wrong foot before it ever began. On November 27, 2012, we learned that Ruiz had tested positive for amphetamines and would be suspended for the first 25 games of the 2013 season. The Phillies used a combination of Erik Kratz and Humberto Quintero, but neither performed well enough to truly replace Ruiz.

Ruiz made his season debut on April 28, but it has been all downhill from there. A year after setting career-highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage (as well as numerous others) and emerging as one of the most valuable catchers in baseball, Ruiz has been among the worst this year. Currently, he has a .272 weighted on-base average, well below the .311 Major League average and seventh-worst among catchers with at least 140 plate appearances.

Currently, Ruiz’s five percent walk rate would be a career low. His 14 percent strikeout rate would be a career-high. His .024 isolated power is so minuscule that even Ben Revere (.048) can taunt him. Everything that made Ruiz good as a hitter last year are now completely gone.

The following two heat maps show his isolated power on fastballs put in play.

These two heat maps show his ISO on “soft” stuff.

On a rate basis, Ruiz is actually swinging at the “soft” stuff less (39% this year, 49% last year), but is still missing it more often (26%, 20%). He is swinging at fastballs at about the same rate, but is actually missing them about five percent less often. He even has nearly an exact copy of last year’s BABIP on fastballs (.379, .378), but he has not had any power whatsoever. The deepest hit he has had on a fastball was a double down the right field line against Jon Niese on April 28. He has hit a few fly balls to center that went a longer distance, but not many.

Ignoring the absent plate discipline, Ruiz’s batted ball profile looks a lot like it did in 2008, arguably his worst offensive season. He finished with a .282 wOBA, putting 54 percent of balls in play on the ground, 29 percent in the air, and 17 percent as line drives. This year, those splits are 50%/30%/20%, respectively. Last year, they were 43%/33%/24%.

He isn’t expanding the strike zone, swinging at worse pitches. When he does swing and make contact, he has only on rare occasions had the strength to send an outfielder back instead of forward. There is some good news: he has only had 142 plate appearances, which is not enough for us to reach any strong conclusions. Because of the suspension, he might not have been ready to start the season when he did, and he could return to the Ruiz of old in the second half. It’s still possible.

On the other hand, Ruiz is 34 years old and eligible for free agency after the season. The Phillies may not want to gamble on a 34-year-old catcher suddenly rediscovering his power, thus he may be traded to a team in need of a veteran catcher by the July 31 trade deadline. As strange as it sounds, Kratz and Quintero at this point are more reliable to a team that fancies itself an NL East contender than Ruiz.