Analyzing Darin Ruf’s Slump

At the request of some readers, I wrote a column on ESPN’s Sweet Spot blog on August 7 investigating Darin Ruf‘s numbers. I concluded that while his production, as of that writing, was impressive, he was destined to regress because he was relying on an unsustainably high BABIP. Since August 8, Ruf has posted a .171/.256/.429 line, including a .167 BABIP. He has hit three home runs in 39 trips to the plate, but that has been almost all of the positive contributions he has made over the last two weeks.

It is worth diving into the stats to see what has changed recently to alter his fortune. Note that we are dealing with small sample sizes — 96 PA and 405 pitches in the “before” sample and 43/183 in the “after” sample — but at the very least we can keep an eye out for some trends.

In these two charts, you can see how Ruf before had power across the strike zone, but lately it has shrunk to just the inside half of the plate.

In terms of pitch locations, particularly with fastballs, pitchers have been locating them down more often as well as away. Before, Ruf was able to get three singles, two doubles, and a home run to right field, but since August 7, he has had zero hits of any kind to the right of center. Of the ten balls Ruf hit to the opposite field in the “before” sample, nine were fastballs, but only three were located on the outer-third of the strike zone — six were over the heart of the plate.

As for the softer stuff, pitchers have been locating those pitches further away and down.

Ruf, coincidentally also a first baseman by trade, is not unlike Ryan Howard in that he possesses prodigious power but at the same time also has some very obvious ways in which he can be conquered by opposing pitching. For Howard, he was able to accrue over 2,500 plate appearances before he was figured out at the age of 29. Ruf, playing in an era of much more convenient data collection and access, may have already been figured out at the age of 27. He can absolutely crush opposing pitchers’ mistakes, like he did with Ricky Nolasco‘s change-up yesterday, but over the long haul, he still needs to prove he can thrive offensively without relying on a BABIP in excess of .400. Fortunately, the Phillies have been scrambling for ways to put him into the lineup and they will have the opportunity to platoon him with Howard at first base, or perhaps with a Nate Schierholtz-esque outfielder in 2014 to figure out just how far they can stretch his talent.

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13 comments

  1. Elf

    August 19, 2013 08:32 AM

    How can the guy’s BABIP over this short period actually be below his batting average over the same period? He’s getting hits on balls not in play?

  2. Ruffin' It

    August 19, 2013 08:32 AM

    One reason his numbers may be down against pitches on the outer half of the plate is that right-handed pitchers have been getting him to swing and miss at the outside slider. I would imagine this is making him more tentative about committing on pitches middle to away while he learns to recognize those pitches better. The question is: will he learn to recognize these pitches and rebuild his confidence, or will he turn into Ryan Howard and spend the rest of his career guessing? Fortunately, the Phillies are committed to finding out.

  3. Ruffin' It

    August 19, 2013 08:33 AM

    @Elf

    Homeruns don’t count as balls ‘in play.’

  4. Eric Longenhagen

    August 19, 2013 08:50 AM

    “First, Ruf has a hole in his swing on the outer half because his front foot doesn’t come all the way closed before he swings. Ruf starts with an open stance but never draws his left foot parallel to his right, limiting his reach and thus, his plate coverage. Second, he doesn’t identify good breaking balls well. You can see this in the ugly swings Ruf takes at them as well as in his weight transfer. You can see Ruf’s girth disproportionately shifted toward his front foot. Even when he does pick up the curve, he’s habitually early on them. Those two deficiencies in lockstep with one another are tough to overcome. Breaking ball away, breaking ball away, breaking ball away…..it won’t be pretty once advance scouts figure it out. Even when he does bring that front foot all the way around, it gets down late and Ruf’s entire swing begins late as well. This leads me to believe that he’ll struggle against good velocity up and in as well. These are things advance scouts will notice in the Majors and exploit.”

    -Someone’s first post on this site.

  5. awh

    August 19, 2013 09:45 AM

    Mr. Longerhagen, good post, but it leads me to a question.

    I get that Ruf doesn’t close down his stance, and it seems pretty obvious he’s a middle-in hitter just by watching him.

    But, which hitters do ” identify good breaking balls well”? Isn’t that part of the reason WHY they’re “good breaking balls” in the first place – hitters have trouble identifying them?

    And I beg to differ with you. I think advance scouts HAVE already figured out Ruf. He’s already seeing more of those breaking balls, and he’s going to have to learn to lay off of them. It’s not like he didn’t get any attention when he tore up the Eastern League last season. It’s just that MLB pitchers for the most part have better secondary stuff than AA pitchers.

    I expect further “regression” from Ruf, in that I don’t think he’ll be able to maintain an OPS over .900 (currently at .904), but I would be surprised to see him fall off the face of the earth.

    He seems to be a better hitter than that.

  6. joecatz

    August 19, 2013 10:03 AM

    Great analysis Bill.

    And I tend to agree with Eric here. Ruf’s ability to have sustained success at the major league level lives and dies with that swing hole. He’s not going to turn into a non power guy, and the BABIP differences will continue to regress, but in the end, everything about him comes back to exactly what Eric says.

  7. Eric Longenhagen

    August 19, 2013 10:18 AM

    Awh,

    You’re right about the good breaking balls thing.

    As for differing with me on how advance scouts have already figured him out, that excerpt was from a piece I wrote last October.

  8. Phillie697

    August 19, 2013 10:28 AM

    Our season is so boring and bleak that we analyze a guy for 43 PAs… Shoot me now. We all called for regression, and regression is happening right in front of our very eyes. Why the heck are we surprised? There is NOTHING to tell with 43 PAs.

    I did write this after his Aug. 10th game:

    “Ruf hit a HR, and I immediately thought about some people’s enthusiasm about him here. Then I watched him flail hopelessly at everything his last two ABs; Tyler Clippard especially made him look like he has no idea what he was doing. I don’t know how it looked on TV, but it was pretty ugly to watch. At some point teams are going to figure out how to get him out.”

    He’s got another month and half of auditioning. I’m going to withhold final judgment until then.

  9. Tim

    August 19, 2013 10:38 AM

    Ruf has an open stance, which begs pitchers to go low and away. We can see that pitchers have started to exploit it (particuarly with sliders).

    Ruf could close his stance to some degree, which could help his plate coverage away. Of course, this will hurt his power on inside pitches.

    It’s the MLB cat and mouse game.

    He’s started to accumulate some ABs against LHP. I think that’s his report card.

  10. Ryan

    August 19, 2013 10:46 AM

    Eric:

    If you were coaching Ruf, what would you tell him to do to counter how pitchers are currently pitching him?

  11. Eric Longenhagen

    August 19, 2013 12:41 PM

    Tha’s a good question and it’s one I can’t really answer without you seeing me because it’s really hard to articulate this stuff. There’s nobody I would have trusted more to decide how to fix Ruf than Charlie Manuel though. When it came to hitting, Charlie was real good.

  12. DMAR

    August 19, 2013 12:46 PM

    Have to agree with Eric whole heartedly. Advanced scouting separates the boys from the men.

    The first thing I would tell him to do is talk to another right handed power hitter that had a long and successful career in the MLB.

    The advanced scouting report on RH power is pretty much all the same. Try and get ahead of them early up and in then get them out soft away.

    If he finds himself 1-2 or 0-2 he can probably take automatically (mental approach)but I too would like to see him close the stance up and change the approach for a while to work away.

    Burrell was notorious for strike 3 looking inner half why? He was rigid in an approach that had him believe when he was down in the count they were going to try and get him out soft away and would try to sit on that pitch. Pat would have been better had he altered his approach more often to eliminate outer half instead of inner half.

    Great RH hitters which are rare (see Miggy)don’t worry about it because they see and recognize FB/off-speed equally well out of the hand.

    So I think we can concede Ruf is no Miggy. I don’t know what his BP sessions are like but he should be concentrating on letting the ball travel deeper and working middle to oppo. That should quicken up his hands and convince his muscle memory it doesn’t need to be so far out in front.

    Thus his eyes will have a little longer to see a sloppy curve or slider is going to be 3 ft outside.

  13. prs130

    August 21, 2013 10:40 AM

    The fact the Ruf so totally owns the inner half (even up and in thanks to his quick hands) gives me hope that with a little coaching he can focus on getting that outside pitch back up the middle. I might even suggest moving his feet a little closer to the plate to make that outside strike more hittable.

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