2014 Phillies Report Card: Darin Ruf

Do you remember 2012? Those glorious days when we hadn’t yet accepted what the Phillies would become? In those days, Darin Ruf was the shining light, the prospect everyone held up as the answer, the heir to Abreu, Werth and Pence as the slugging corner outfielder. That was before everyone realized that “playing well in AA and not having any major league experience” isn’t the same thing as “prospect.”

I’m sorry. I’ll let that go. It’s time.

Ruf exceeded our expectations in 2012 and 2013, and the hope was that he’d become, at least, a decent right-handed bench bat. There’s value in being able to pinch hit in the late innings and be able to draw a walk or at least represent the threat of a home run, even if you can’t do anything else. You don’t go out of your way to find or keep such a player, or get him in the lineup, but if he can do those things and is pre-arbitration, that sort of player will always have a roster spot. Getting even that out of a 20th-rounder out of Creighton is a pretty nice bit of business, and far more than I expected from Ruf as recently as early 2013.

But if the best-case scenario is platoon first baseman, 2014 represented a mild setback, and when your ceiling is as low as Ruf’s, no setback is mild. When I first pulled up Ruf’s Baseball Reference page, I was mildly surprised to see that he only took 117 major league plate appearances in 2014–it seemed like he played more than that. But then you go back and tick off the injuries–a month and a half at the start of the season with a strained oblique muscle, then another month out midseason with a broken wrist, and he never really got going, posting an OPS+ of 99 in those 117 PA. He’s still hitting a lot of line drives, but he also still strikes out a ton, and even on a team with as little to lose as the Phillies, he’ll struggle for playing time.

In short, I believe that Ruf will hit fairly well if he’s healthy and plays a full season. But what incentive do the Phillies have to go out of their way to make him part of their plans? He’s already 28, his career splits aren’t so extreme it make sense to keep him around as a platoon-only guy, and he can only play first base and maybe left field if you can bring yourself not to watch. In the meantime, I know the Phillies aren’t exactly bringing the 1994 Expos through the pipeline, but Domonic Brown and (for now) Ryan Howard are Marlon Byrd are still here, and Maikel Franco, Aaron Altherr and Kelly Dugan are going to start demanding playing time that would have otherwise been earmarked for Ruf. It’s kind of sad, because Ruf seems like a decent enough dude, and he’s already shot the moon in terms of his expectations before his career started. But I feel like we’re beyond it being unlikely that he’ll be a productive player on the next good Phillies team–we know it beyond a reasonable doubt. It was a disappointing year for several reasons, some of which are outside Ruf’s control, and while the Phillies shouldn’t be in any huge hurry to dispose of him, they shouldn’t go out of their way to keep him either.

Grade: C-

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  1. bubba0101

    October 10, 2014 09:42 AM

    I see no legitimate reason why Ryan Howard goes out there night in and night out but Ruf cant get more than 117 at bats. Yeah there were injuries but does the organization really stand to gain anything by leaving Howard out there and not giving Ruf some more at bats? It just seems to me that ruf should get 300 ab’s one season just to see how it goes while we still suck. But then again, nobody has asked me to be a consultant to RAJ so what do I know.

    • Andrew R.

      October 10, 2014 11:15 AM

      I agree. 300 at bats would be nice to see. Over his career, Ruf has amassed 447 plate appearances which he earned a triple slash line of .251/.339/.466. Good for 121 ops+. Granted, those are 3 seasons worth of small samples, but at what point do they add up and mean something? Take away his 1-19, or whatever, pinch hitting and those numbers do slightly improve. Add in the fact that he is a much more competent base runner than Howard, and his defense is much better. Shoot, if he can turn a double play from first and play appropriately close to the bag on pick offs, isn’t he more valuable than Howard?

      I don’t think Ruf will be anything of a long term solution. I always kind of likened him to the Ike Davis / Lucas Duda mold. But looking at his numbers, I do believe he has earned an opportunity to play first base and prove himself. There are times when you can tell he’s pressing with runners on base. If you were in his shoes, wouldn’t you want a shot at earning more playing time? How do you do that? Hit the big homerun with 2 guys on. We’ve all seen it. A pretty disciplined hitter swinging at pitches out of the zone early in the count only to look at fastball strike three down the middle.

      If the phillies don’t trade/release Howard over the winter, I can see them letting Howard play two months, see if he can get hot and then trade him, or if he stinks, cut him, and let Ruf have 4 months to prove himself.

      • Andrew Finkernagel

        October 10, 2014 09:33 PM

        Lucas Duda is a star.

      • Chris

        October 11, 2014 12:21 AM

        No he isnt

  2. Beez Nutz

    October 10, 2014 11:10 AM

    I’ll never understand why everyone is so reluctant to give this kid a chance over Dom Brown.

    • MattWinks

      October 10, 2014 12:13 PM

      Because he is older, less athletic, has bigger swing holes than Brown, and considerably less upside.

      Here is Ruf’s line in September: 52 PAs .204/.231/.306 2 BB 15 K .286 BABIP, pitchers are figuring out how to beat him. We are using career stats heavily weighted by a hot September in 2012, but the truth is he has declined and you are seeing the holes and the power decline not just in the majors, but at the AAA level as well.

      • Major Malfunction

        October 10, 2014 06:17 PM

        Figured him out based on his September line? I’m not disagreeing in saying he’s not a shining star, but basing your opinion on one month is ludicrous. Just about all his playing time in September were pinch hit roles, for one thing. Nobody comes off the bench and lights it up. Its a complete disadvantage.

        But compared to other players, his difficult September at bats were better than the seasoned starters he watched from the bench.

        Howard, Brown, Ruf, Utley. The all SUCKED in the month of September. Based on your theory, does that mean the league figured them all out? I respectively disagree with your theory and do not see it as paramount to why they Phillies do not play him.

        .282/.348/.500/139 OPS
        .083/.185/.083/-10 OPS

        That’s when Ruf was a starter versus when he was a sub. I see a distinct disadvantage coming off the bench. And yes its a small sample set, but how about they actually PLAY him to see what he can do. Its like Dom Brown all over again.

        I’m not saying Ruf is good, but when compared to the rest of this team, he’s as good if not better when compared to the aged over priced veterans. His abilities would solve more problems then they would cause.

        And if Ruf gets a C-, Burnett best be getting an F.

      • Chris

        October 10, 2014 07:13 PM

        They saw Ruf get extended time last year and his numbers got significantly worse as the months went on.

  3. Adam Dembowitz

    October 10, 2014 05:10 PM

    I liken the Darin Ruf obsession to the Jeff Garcia obsession. I understand neither. Ruf isn’t good and won’t get good. He’s a 24th/25th guy and not much else. Playing him over Dom would be extremely counterproductive.

    • Chris

      October 10, 2014 06:48 PM

      People want Ruf to play because they hate Howard/Brown. Its simple. Ruf is a nice RH bat off the bench. A guy who you can play against lefties to give those two a break here and there, and wont kill you if you need him to fill in case a guy gets hurt or goes on the DL.

      But I just laugh when I hear this guy needs to start because we need to see what he has. No we dont. We know what we have. A nice bench player. And theres nothing wrong with that.

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