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.