Carlos Ruiz Still Has It

Catcher Carlos Ruiz was the hero in Thursday night’s series finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers, as he reached base in all five of his plate appearances. He singled, walked twice, and doubled twice while scoring twice and driving in two runs in the Phillies’ 7-3 victory. The Phillies wrap up their ten-game road trip in Arizona after taking three of four from the Dodgers.

With the effort, Ruiz brought his weighted on-base average up to .381, good for second-best on the team behind Chase Utley, and seventh-best among all catchers in baseball (min. 50 plate appearances). Everything that wasn’t there for Ruiz in 2012, when he served a 25-game suspension for a positive drug test and battled a strained hamstring, is there now.

Ruiz’s 15.8 percent walk rate would be a career-high and is around his rate from 2008-11. He’s struck out more than he’s walked, 12 to 10. His .206 isolated power is reminiscent of 2012’s .215. All very, very good signs.

Pitchers haven’t changed their approach to Ruiz; Ruiz is just better at covering the plate and generating power. Whether that’s due to his now-legal use of Adderall or simply not being injured (or both), we don’t know. Anyway, heat map:

Last season, Ruiz couldn’t reach anything on the outer-third of the plate, and he was having trouble in pitches lower in the zone. His weighted on-base average going by one-third slices of the zone:

  • 2013
    • Inside: .367
    • Middle: .273
    • Outside: .288
  • 2014
    • Inside: .297
    • Middle: .441
    • Outside: .372

Ruiz’s performance against fastballs hasn’t changed, but he’s much better against softer stuff. To wit, Ruiz’s go-ahead two-run double down the left field line in Thursday night’s win was on a slider over the middle of the plate. Last season, he either pops that up weakly or drives into the ground for an easy play for the second baseman. Last year’s wOBA vs. soft stuff: 187. This season’s wOBA vs. soft stuff: .370.

All this being said, Ruiz’s current level of offensive production may not be sustainable. Per FanGraphs, he’s been hitting line drives at a 26 percent rate, and the increase compared to previous seasons has almost all been on ground balls. Consider:

Year Line Ground Fly
2012 24.0% 43.4% 32.6%
2013 19.6% 46.9% 33.6%
2014 26.4% 37.7% 35.8%

The sample sizes are still very small, as he’s hit 14 line drives, 20 ground balls, and 19 fly balls, so one fewer line drive knocks him down by two percent, for instance. Ruiz’s career-average rates across the board are 20 percent, 45 percent, and 35 percent, respectively. It’s still too early know if the hard contact he’s been making is a legitimate change, or simply a small sample blip based on randomness or perhaps a favorable clump of pitches from opposing pitchers.

That said, that he’s been having success at all is comforting. GM Ruben Amaro signed Ruiz to a three-year extension last November, and year one with a 35-year-old catcher could have been very ugly. But even if he falls from his current .871 OPS to, say, a .750 OPS, he would still be valuable enough and worth his $8.5 million salary.

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  1. Andy

    April 25, 2014 04:05 PM

    One thing I have always wondering… Yes, Ruiz is 35 years old but he was a second baseman until phillies instructional league. So I think his 35 is relative to maybe being a couple years younger rather than other catchers that catch their entire life. Thoughts?

  2. TomG

    April 26, 2014 11:30 AM

    Wait. Does this mean Clara Bow no longer does?

  3. mark66

    April 26, 2014 12:33 PM

    It seems when Ruiz is hitting in the 2 hole he responds very positively. I think Sandberg needs to do this more often as JR does not seem to be handling it too well.

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