Killing Two Birds with One Stone

You’ve heard it before, and you’ll continue to hear about it — at least here — as long as the Phillies continue to ignore the obvious: Ryan Howard needs to have a platoon partner at first base. Prior to suffering a torn meniscus in his left knee earlier this season, Howard had been performing well against opposite-handed pitching (.878 OPS) but not so much against same-handed pitching (.539). Howard’s shoddy performance against lefties has been a growing problem since 2010. Perhaps pressured by a need to justify Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract extension, the Phillies have never budged on their view of Howard as a full-time player.

The Phillies happen to have the perfect platoon partner on the roster right now: a right-handed hitter who has historically handled left-handed pitching very well, who has no real position other than at first base, and who has performed well enough to merit some more playing time consideration — Darin Ruf. Ruf hit his 13th home run of the season Sunday afternoon against the Braves, bumping his OPS to .852. Oddly, he has handled right-handed pitching better than lefties so far this year, but it has more to do with a very small sample size (63 PA vs. LHP) than anything else, considering he has been murder on lefties throughout his Minor League career. The Phillies have been using Ruf in the outfield, and while he has been better than, say, Pat Burrell or Raul Ibanez, he is still dead weight defensively and shouldn’t be cast there going forward.

Furthermore, giving Ruf playing time at first base against left-handed starters, and as a pinch-hitter late in games, allows the Phillies to give Howard’s war-torn body — soon to be 34 years old — some consistent rest. If there is one thing Howard isn’t anymore, it’s durable. To needlessly rely on Howard against the likes of Gio Gonzalez and Mike Minor, just to name two, when there is a more productive option already available at virtually no cost would be insane.

The worst thing the Phillies could do is go into 2014 with Ruf as a starting outfielder. The Phillies can do much better than that without needing to break the bank for Nelson Cruz  or another big name free agent bat. Despite his offensive performance this year, there is still plenty of doubt about Ruf’s ability to maintain his current level of production going forward, particularly against right-handed pitching. Defensively, we have a deficit of useful data, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that on average, he has been one run below average in 152 innings in right field (which is likely very generous). A full-time right fielder will log around 1,200 innings, meaning that prorated over a full season, Ruf would be eight runs below average. Comparatively, a .370 wOBA is about 31 runs above average, so Ruf’s defense, in this example, undoes at least one-third of what he accomplishes with the bat. These numbers are for illustrative purposes only. This is without considering that the standard for offense has been slightly higher for right fielders than first basemen.

Starting with this season and working back to 2010, the Phillies have ranked 15th, 24th, 14th, and 10th in weighted on-base average at first base. If they had managed to get an aggregate .370 wOBA in 475 PA from Howard against right-handers and in 225 PA from Ruf against left-handers, they would have tied with the Red Sox in sixth this season. Even .355 would have ranked seventh.

Inertia has been the Phillies’ biggest enemy since 2010. Time to break with the old and embrace the new. Support a Howard/Ruf ticket at first base in 2014.

Leave a Reply

*

30 comments

  1. BradInDC

    September 10, 2013 07:14 AM

    Howard/Ruf 2014 should start the negative media campaign against Howard/Everyday 2014 now. Accuse Howard/Everyday of being soft on crime. Say it moved jobs offshore. Say it took campaign cash from an unpopular business or indicted local businessman. And then some direct mailers with pictures of Howard/Everyday with ARod. Boom. Done.

  2. JM

    September 10, 2013 07:43 AM

    I think it is way too early to give Ruf a grade in RF. He has played every game at the big league level, and by all rights is holding his own. Is is All-Star defense? No. Is it getting better? Yes. Could it be at least league average? Looking at how much he has progressed just since spring training, i think it could. His bat needs to be in the line up every day. Not because I think he will be more than a .270 & 25 HR guy, but because he breaks up Utley and Brown, to say nothing of Howard and Ashe.

  3. JM

    September 10, 2013 07:46 AM

    would Cruz project to be worth that much more than Ruf in RF? Is there a better way to spend the cash?

  4. pedro3131

    September 10, 2013 08:40 AM

    This was the only logical conclusion last off-season… So my assumption is that this off-season they will try out Ruf as a LOOGY or something similarly nonsensical

  5. joecatz

    September 10, 2013 09:18 AM

    the single biggest benefit to using Ruf as a platoon bat with Howard is that it allows you to have one or both of them as a difference maker off the bench late in games. basically, the team has the luxury of carrying another OF that has more glove than bat if they desire.

  6. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    September 10, 2013 09:20 AM

    I don’t think we need to be so set on assigning Ruf a position at this point for next season. The one piece of very good news to come out of this season thus far is that he is capable of holding his own defensively in the outfield on a major league level. That versatility makes him very valuable. Having him as a backup option gives Amaro some flexibility when he looks at what’s available through trade or free agency in the offseason. Also, it’s quite possible that come midseason 2014 (or maybe even earlier) there will be another candidate to platoon with Howard at first–Maikel Franco.

  7. Bill Baer

    September 10, 2013 09:21 AM

    Franco isn’t someone you want to platoon. If you’re going to use him, use him full-time. Otherwise, you’re wasting 50% of precious service time on a potentially valuable player in his early 20′s.

  8. joecatz

    September 10, 2013 09:57 AM

    If there’s one thing I’m still very concerned about with Ruf vs LHP its that his LD% still has not stabilized. in fact, its gotten worse over the past four weeks.

    He was at 9% with 27 PA about a month ago. Since then, with double the PA he’s dropped to 6.1% basically because he hasn’t hit a line drive vs a LHP.

    they’re literally exploiting the outside corner like crazy against him.

    His k% as well, is hovering at 33% vs LHP.

    I really fear that this is a bigger deal than people make it out to be, because LHP seem to have his number, in terms of pitvh selection.

  9. joecatz

    September 10, 2013 10:17 AM

    and I completely agree with the SSS here, FWIW with Bill. the issue for me is more about how he’s being pitched right now by LHP.

    they’re literally giving him nothing but stuff low and away outside, and he’s swinging at stuff way out of the zone, especially behind in the count. he’s also a natural pull hitter, so a lot of this has to do with how he swings.

    But it’s no secret that Ruf has a hole the size of the gulf of mexico on the outside part of the plate. LHP give him nothing on the inside half, he hasn’t figured out how to drive the ball the opposite way vs a LHP (something he’s started to do vs RHP) so when he does make contact, it’s RCF at best.

    I’m not saying it time to give up, or that the data should be looked at as absolute, but for me, this is the biggest issue in terms of using him as a platoon player vs LHP. He’s got to figure out how to hit what he’s being pitched, capitalize better on the mistake pitches, and lay off the stuff outside the zone.

    Until he does that, and starts driving the ball the other way, he’s gonna be in trouble, and it would not surprise me if teams start playing him on more of a shift as well.

  10. nik

    September 10, 2013 10:22 AM

    “The worst thing the Phillies could do is go into 2014 with Ruf as a starting outfielder. The Phillies can do much better than that without needing to break the bank for Nelson Cruz or another big name free agent bat. ”

    I’m not sure I’m following this. Who exactly is this mysterious player that we can use that’s better than Ruf and won’t cost as much as Cruz?

  11. billy

    September 10, 2013 10:23 AM

    “The Phillies can do much better than that without needing to break the bank for Nelson Cruz or another big name free agent bat.”

    Such as?

  12. Bill Baer

    September 10, 2013 10:26 AM

    @ nik

    That was designed to put the two possibilities at opposite ends of the spectrum. Basically anything else (realistically speaking) falls in between.

    Not that I’m a huge advocate of it, but Corey Hart is one example. I worry about his price and durability, but Jacoby Ellsbury. Using Nate McLouth as part of a platoon.

  13. Cory

    September 10, 2013 10:28 AM

    You said the worst thing is to go forward with Ruf as a starting outfielder and they can do much better without breaking the bank for Nelson Cruz. I agree on not signing Cruz, but who is the better FA option than Ruf. The only clear upgrade is our old friend Hunter Pence, but he’ll also break the bank. Corey Hart is a risk and has said he wants to stay with Milwaukee. Choo is LH and will cost big $$. Morse? Francoeur? Byrd?

  14. Bill Baer

    September 10, 2013 10:32 AM

    Yeah, doing nothing (Ruf) and wildly spending (Cruz). I could have worded the whole thing differently to make that concept more clear. My apologies.

  15. joecatz

    September 10, 2013 10:35 AM

    Well, without answering for Bill…

    How bout a scenario where you go into the season with:

    Howard/Ruf at 1B

    And rather than spending 15mm and a draft pick on a guy like Choo (440 wOBA vs. RHP, 289 wOBA vs LHP) or Cruz (a roughly .360 wOBA guy vs LHP or RHP on his career)

    you go after a Nate McLouth/David Dejesus type, as the LH side of a platoon in a corner, and pair him with Ruf from time to time, or another RH OF off the bench.

    then you take that additional I don’t know, 8-10mm you save there and apply it to other holes.

  16. joecatz

    September 10, 2013 10:51 AM

    I think also, two other things to consider here, in terms of the elusive search for a RH bat:

    From 2012-2013 Carlos Ruiz ranks 4th among catchers in wOBA (.383) and OPS (.906) vs LHP.

    among all players, he ranks 30th in wOBA and 25th in OPS.

    Nelson Cruz, over the same period, vs LHP wOBA is .388 and his OPS is .905.

    Hunter Pence is .365 and .857 respectively.

    For perspective, Salty, a SH, sits at a .587 OPS and .299 wOBA vs LHP, and McCann at a .657 OPS and a .286 wOBA.

    Basically, Carlos Ruiz, when helathy and in the lineup, has been the most effective Phillies hitter (and one of the best in baseball) vs. LHP not named Kevin Frandsen, who has a .939 OPS and .407 wOBA vs LHP in 150 PA.

    creating the RIGHT platoon situation as opposed to going out and spending big dollars of a free agent who mashes one side and sucks eggs against the other is really the smartest thing this team could do next year.

  17. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    September 10, 2013 11:19 AM

    Bill, regarding using Franco in a platoon: I get your service time argument, but if his future position really is at 1B (as many scouts suggest), I don’t see the Phillies work him into the lineup on the major league without doing one of the following: 1)finding a trade partner who will relieve us of Howard and some portion of his contract; 2)eating the entirety of Howard’s contract via a trade or release; 3)working Franco into the lineup part time via a midseason callup/platoon. I would obviously advocate option 1 if possible, but it probably won’t be. I can’t see the team following Option 2, even if it might be preferable, and it might be asking a lot to call on Franco, without any major league experience, to replace one of the team’s most popular players immediately after a fire-sale trade. (Can you imagine the fan reaction if Franco struggled initially and Howard experienced an offensive revival, Big Papi style, as DH for some AL team?) Option 3, while burning some service time, would allow the team to ease its most valuable prospects into the majors in the role in which he is most likely to excel. They could also use him a 3B occasionally if Howard rebounds to the point where you’re comfortable batting him against lefties. And then, after getting a good look at Franco during the 2014 season, they can decide what to do with Howard in the winter of 2014-15.

    It’s a strategy they’ve followed with young players in the past, for instance with Chase Utley and Jayson Werth. I’m willing to accept that the balance of considerations weighs against using Franco in a platoon to start. But it doesn’t seem like a strategy that should be dismissed completely out of hand, especially since Franco could very well force the issue with a good first half next year.

    Of course, this is probably all immaterial, the most likely scenario is that Howard gets injured again and so no platoon at first will be necessary.

  18. joecatz

    September 10, 2013 11:35 AM

    On Franco,

    folks, whether he eventually ends up at 1B or 3B as a member of the Phillies or somewhere else, the kid has yet to play a game above AA, has exactly 297 Ab’s at the AA level, and has played 8 of his 358 minor league games at 1B.

    Unless the team decides two things in February:

    1. Cody Asche, with roughly a 50 game major league sample is the real deal and the future at 3B

    and:

    2. Maikel Franco is without a doubt, both as a trade chip and/or an asset to the Phillies at the major league level incapable of playing 3B

    he’ll get as much, if not more playing time at 3B in Lehigh or Reading next season than he will at 1B.

    If Franco ends up on the major league roster next year at any time it will be at the expense of Cody Asche, not as a bench bat or platoon partner for Howard, unless a whole lot goes wrong. He just won’t have enough time at 1B, or enough AB’s at 21 years old for that to make any sense at all.

    the second you declare Franco solely a 1B he loses a ton of value.

  19. Larry

    September 10, 2013 12:19 PM

    Dom Brown has been less than average as an outfielder. Ruf has shown more opposite field power than Utley and Brown. He has 2 opposite field HRs while they have none. Ruf hasn’t even been here all year. He would have many more HRs including opposite field shots.

    How can we have a previous article of Cody Asche already being penciled in as the 3rd baseman in 2014 with a way less sample size than Ruf?

    Ruf as a Phillie in 256 career PAs has a 140 OPS+……He is the right handed power bat they have missed for the 1st half of the season. If they bring in Hunter Pence, then fine, but I doubt that will happen. Maybe RAJ can beg the Redsox to have Victorino back, but they would laugh while declining a trade. Since the allstar break Shane has the 3rd highest WAR in baseball behind only Trout and Mc Cutchen. Werth is 4th and Pence is 8th. Ruf is the the answer right now, but should be in leftfield, move Dom to right. Try to sign Ellsbury at center.

  20. Pencilfish

    September 10, 2013 03:47 PM

    In 2012, the Phillies installed JMJ as an starting OF, and he was huge disappointment (.245/.301/.395 over 479 PA), but JMJ got a fair shot. I also recall people saying Dom Brown needed a whole season to prove his worth, and he did. Ruf has 256 PA in the majors over 2 seasons. No one can honestly say what Ruf can do until he has many more PA.

    As for the hole in his swing, this is what he and Sandberg had to say after hitting a opposite-field HR off a RHP on Sunday:

    “I kind of always work on that,” Ruf said about hitting the other way. “It’s nice to just have it happen naturally in the game and it’s one thing when you can do it in batting practice but to translate it to the game, you feel confident, comfortable.”

    Pitchers have been daring Ruf to go to right field with the way they have pitched to him.

    “He seems to get a lot of pitches away so he stayed on that in a big moment,” interim manager Ryne Sandberg said of Ruf’s home run. “That is what he needs to continue to do is utilize the whole field and go with the pitches away and that was a good time for him to pull through and drive one.”

    We should let Ruf show whether he is able to adjust to pitches low and outside. It should be his job to lose unless the Phillies sign an AS RF.

  21. joecatz

    September 10, 2013 04:06 PM

    PF,

    the HR off carpenter was a good sign except it had nothing to do with the pitch he ACTUALLY HIT.

    that pitch was between the belt and the letters almost center of the plate. He was actually a tad BEHIND that ball.

    the real telling part about that AB was the fact that he was down 2-0, and LAID OFF three consecutive pitches down and away, off the plate.

    the result of doing that was the MISTAKE PITCH that Carpenter let get a little up, and a little in.

    BOOM.

    He didn’t drive an outside low pitch for a home run, he laid off of three of them in a row and then took advantage of one that missed its spot.

    The issue with Ruf isn’t the contact on the mistakes, its actually GETTING TO THE POINT where he gets that pitch, by laying off the crap he’s been swinging at behind in the count.

    Make sense?

  22. WayneKerrins

    September 10, 2013 05:17 PM

    Yes Joe perfect sense: just as giving Ryne 40 odd games in a done and spiraling downward season as an interim ML manager did and does.

  23. Pencilfish

    September 11, 2013 10:16 AM

    joecatz,

    You said it was a little up and in, but Sandberg and Ruf seem to imply otherwise (little up and away). If you are right, then muscling the ball in the stands is an indication of how strong this guy is. If Ruf and Sandberg are right, then it is nice that he is going with the pitch and using the whole field (instead of trying to pull everything).

  24. Phillie697

    September 11, 2013 10:26 AM

    There is one consideration you didn’t mention Bill… Yes his OF defense is likely to be bad (and btw for all of you “eyeballers” out there, it’s BEEN bad statistically as well), but so far, in SSS, it looks like his 1B defense ain’t any better. In other words, his defense, no matter where he plays, is just bad. His defense is going to eat away his offensive production ala Ryan Howard in recent years. There is just no way around it.

    Partly one of the reasons why I don’t go nuts over Ruf. If he even plays average defense, I probably would have been more positive about him. It’s hard enough to produce 3 WAR with just your offense, let alone having to make up the 1 WAR you threw away with your defense.

  25. joecatz

    September 11, 2013 11:51 AM

    PF,

    I took the pitch location from the gameday pitch f/x.

    He swung at a slider in
    took a called strike in on a four seamer.

    Then Carpenter gave him two four seamers out, down and about 6 inches outside that he laid off.

    tried to come back with a slider in the exact same location as the two balls, and he laid off.

    then he came BACK with the 4 seamer, which was over the plate, on the outside corner, between the knees and the belt.

    when I said he came a little to up and a little too in, I meant that the pitchs intention was to be off the plate more, and down.

    make sense?

  26. Phillie697

    September 11, 2013 12:50 PM

    Actually, now I think about it… What are the chances that we can trade Ruf and get Jonathan Singleton back? LOL.

    Yes, for anyone who can’t tell, that’s not a serious suggestion; Houston would laugh at us doubly hard for trading Singleton to them in the first place AND thinking we’d get him back with… Darin Ruf.

  27. Pencilfish

    September 11, 2013 10:32 PM

    Phillie697,

    Singleton finished at AAA with a 2013 line of .220/.340/.347 in 294 PA. In other words, he played like Galvis at AAA. He has an OPS around .900 in AA ball for the past two years (603 PA). Since he missed part of the minor league season for failing a drug test (he was caught smoking weed), it is possible the Astros would take Ruf for Singleton, just to get rid of the pot-head.

    Seriously, Singleton set himself back. He would have to have a torrid spring for the Astros to make him their starting 1B in 2014. He’s still young (21). Maybe he will straighten himself out.

  28. Phillie697

    September 11, 2013 10:57 PM

    I would trade Darin Ruf for Jonathan Singleton in a heartbeat. In half a heartbeat. In whatever time that’s shorter than half a heartbeat. There is probably no unit of time that’s smaller than how fast I would trade Darin Ruf for Jonathan Singleton. Even Houston isn’t that dumb.

  29. Larry

    September 12, 2013 12:58 AM

    @ Pencilfish,

    I saw 697′s comment earlier and was going to post Singletons’s 2013 stats like you did. lol
    How would those stats translate into the Majors as a 1st baseman? Would he even hit .200/ Would his SLG % even be .300?? I don’t think 697 would be happy with his WAR stat.

Next ArticleOut of Position