2015 Phillies Report Card: Darin Ruf

Darin Ruf is one of the more polarizing players the Philadelphia Phillies have had in the Citizens Bank Park era. To some, he’s an underutilized power bat with untapped potential, while to others he’s (at best) a replacement player who gets a lot of hype because he’s Not Ryan Howard. In the past, I’ve made it abundantly clear that I’m in the latter camp in the Ruf debate. I want to be wrong about him, and I’m happy to change my opinion if there’s a good reason to do so.

Phillies fans began to take notice of Ruf in 2012 when, in his age 25 season, he hit 38 home runs playing in AA ball. The production was unexpected, even though Ruf was a bit old for the AA level, and he was rewarded with the Eastern League MVP. Since then, fans have clamored for Ruf to get more playing time in Philadelphia. Another part of the Ruf lovefest probably stems from the dearth of righthanded power hitters the Phillies have employed in this era. One of the main reasons for the Phillies’ precipitous fall was the departure of Jayson Werth and Pat Burrell, the two best righthanded power hitters the Phillies have had in the 13 years since Scott Rolen was traded. So it’s understandable to want a big righty bat. Ruf’s popularity is also due to a perception of him as an Everyman. Those are all fine reasons to cheer for a player and want that player to succeed, but there are only 25 roster spots available, and starting with 2016 they need to be reserved for players who can help usher the Phillies into a new era of winning. It’s time to take a hard look at the expectations for Ruf, who will enter his age 29 season in 2016 with a big league track record of 744 plate appearances in which he’s produced a career triple slash line of .245/.323/.445.

In 2015, Ruf was literally a replacement player, generating -0.1 fWAR in 297 plate appearances. The Phillies showed they still haven’t figured out how to use Ruf in a way that benefits both team and player: as a platoon partner with the franchise’s all-time greatest first baseman, and the recipient of the franchise’s worst-ever contract, Mr. Ryan Howard. Howard has a lot of flaws, and one of them is that he can’t hit lefties. Well, perfect! Guess who has a platoon split that perfectly complements Howard’s weakness? Darin “Jeff Garcia” Ruf.

Ruf SLG LHPRuf SLG RHP

 

 

 

Against righty pitchers, Ruf is a mess on pitches down and away, as seen in the second grid, in the four squares on the bottom right side. Lefties don’t have nearly the same success against Ruf in that spot. After the 2013 season in which Ruf hit well against righties, the league made adjustments, and Ruf did not. Ruf’s career splits are clear, and he can’t be an everyday player if he can’t hit righthanded pitchers.

Darin Ruf Splits PA AVG OBP SLG % of PA
2013 vs LHP 81 0.188 0.309 0.348 27.6%
2013 vs RHP 212 0.269 0.363 0.500 72.4%
2014 vs LHP 75 0.295 0.392 0.525 64.1%
2014 vs RHP 42 0.146 0.167 0.220 35.9%
2015 vs LHP 114 0.371 0.447 0.660 38.4%
2015 vs RHP 183 0.158 0.208 0.275 61.6%
Career vs LHP 288 0.300 0.390 0.556 38.7%
Career vs RHP 456 0.212 0.281 0.380 61.3%

So, .212/.281/.380 against righties isn’t going to cut it, especially for a first baseman. Ruf can be the sinister side of a first base platoon, but that limits the positional flexibility of the team and forces it to carry two first basemen who can’t field and can’t hit same-sided pitching. It’s just not ideal. But 2016 will be the last season in a Phillies uniform for Ryan Howard, and there’s really no reason for the team to keep playing him just because of who he used to be. Ruf will likely be given a big opportunity in 2016, if for no other reason than that the team just doesn’t have many other options. He hasn’t exactly made a strong case for himself, as his wRC+ has declined every year, indicating Ruf is probably already past his peak.

Year PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+
2012 37 5.4% 32.4% 0.333 0.351 0.727 1.079 0.394 0.400 0.428 172
2013 293 11.3% 31.1% 0.247 0.348 0.458 0.806 0.211 0.324 0.354 125
2014 117 6.8% 27.4% 0.235 0.310 0.402 0.712 0.167 0.304 0.316 100
2015 297 7.1% 23.2% 0.235 0.300 0.414 0.714 0.179 0.268 0.311 94
Career 744 8.6% 27.4% 0.245 0.323 0.445 0.768 0.200 0.300 0.334 111

Among all 44 first basemen with at least 250 PA in 2015, Ruf’s 94 wRC+ was 35th. That did come along with a career-low .268 BABIP, but nevertheless places Ruf below Justin Smoak, C.J. Cron, Chris Carter, Mike Napoli, and Mark Reynolds, and right in line with Joe Mauer, Brandon Moss, Ryan Howard, and Steve Pearce. Those are all valuable players, but none of them are that good anymore, and almost all of them play in the American League. If the Phillies want to maximize their win potential in 2016, they need to emphasize defense, shifts, pitching, positional flexibility, and putting the ball in play. An occasional homer from a player who’s struck out 27% of the time in his career, and who isn’t reliable in the field, isn’t particularly worthwhile.

Against righties, Ruf was Michael Martinez in 2015; against lefties, he was Bryce Harper. Darin Ruf will be 29 years old in the 2016 season, after which Ryan Howard will be gone, and Ruf will be eligible for arbitration for the first time. It’s time to find out once and for all if Ruf can ever be more than a part-time designated hitter. If he wants to avoid that fate, he’ll have to do better than the .235/.300/.414 line he put up in 2015.

Grade: D

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12 comments

  1. Romus

    November 01, 2015 08:55 AM

    Good read Adam.
    Seems Ruf’s true value to the Phillies, could come in what Matt Klentak can get for him from an AL team. Like you inferred, in regards to the AL, perhaps as a DH , especially vs lefties, he is an asset.

  2. Gil

    November 01, 2015 10:51 AM

    Thanks for another excellent review. Ruf may prove to be the more satisfying to watch of next season’s Ruf/Howard 1b platoon if Klentak isn’t able to move one or both this offseason.

    While Ruf has never profiled as an everyday player – wishful thinking to see him as such – his career numbers have been (perhaps unfairly to him) amassed through irregular playing stints amidst the team’s sorry efforts to create positional/platoon flexibility. Lack of clear role on a downward spiraling team/org, and positional change doubtless created developmental challenges for Ruf’s offensive game. His decline in performance may partly be the result of how he has been used – at least partly.

    If still on the team next year may represent the first time in his career that Ruf actually has and knows his role coming into spring training. It might help him.
    No, Ruf will likely never be more than a defensively limited platoon player for any team, but it might be interesting to see if he can mash lefties enough to raise his value and be traded next year for slightly more than nothing.

  3. Michael C Lorah

    November 01, 2015 11:13 AM

    Can you really argue that the Phillies haven’t used him properly by giving him irregular playing time when he provides no defensive value and can’t hit same-hand pitching? The uses for such a player on a National League roster are very limited.

    • Michael C Lorah

      November 01, 2015 11:14 AM

      I should add that that nitpick aside, this was a terrific player review, one of the best you’ve all done so far.

    • Gil

      November 01, 2015 12:11 PM

      Not saying that Ruf is more than at best a platoon 1b/dh because of how he was handled – just that the clearer role of being used only against lefties going into next season could help his numbers and increase his value.

      I don’t know why but the Phillies until late last season never seemed to accept how to best use Ruf. Sure, it’s a narrow usage for an NL team, and he’s not been a great option, but whatever his obvious lackings they haven’t had anyone better to replace Ruf. To me there is no point arguing that he isn’t a good player when they haven’t anyone better at the moment. They must find as many ways as possible to maximize what he can do well (hit lefties) while limited his exposure to right handed pitchers. No matter how he produces, that Ruf won’t be a Phillie beyond next season (if he lasts that long) seems very likely.

      I don’t think they developed or handled Brown properly either, nor was de Fratus, Cesar Hernandez or Asche for that matter this past season. Just like other of their current non core players at the MLB level who strive to be more than fodder, Ruf’s greatest opportunity to remain at the highest level is to play well enough to stick in a part time role through 2016 and maybe beyond, or to hopefully be worth enough to be traded.

      What the Phillies have done – good, bad or indifferent – in terms of player development/usage should neither be ignored nor used as reason alone for a player’s performance.

    • Earl

      November 02, 2015 11:40 AM

      They’re called platoon players.
      And Yes, the Phillies wasted another season for the aging and marginally talented Ruf to possibly hit the lotto and break out as a lefty killer for a full season. There’s a few teams that would love a right handed hitting 1b/dh platoon mate for what they have.

  4. 100Bucks

    November 01, 2015 12:13 PM

    Very good player read and report card. I am even more down on Ruf than Adam is.
    I would be satisfied with an exceptional fielding first baseman who hits at minimum .250 against LHP and RHP and has enough power to keep pitchers honest. First base is an important fielding position that is usually short changed because it is filled by a guy who can clobber 35+ homers year. Since neither of our “platooners” can do that anymore, their fielding liabilities and strikeout rates result in LOSSES Against Replacement. There must be a guy in AAA somewhere who fields the position well but has never moved up because a big hitter is blocking him on the MLB team.
    My vote is to find that guy and bring him in.

    • Romus

      November 01, 2015 03:09 PM

      The irony of Ruf’s MLB defensive indicators…..he won two Rawlings Gold Gloves at first base while in college (2007, 2009). To this day, he remains the ONLY player in NCAA history to win multiple Gold Gloves at the Division I level at any position.
      Hard to believe, Harry!

  5. Timber

    November 01, 2015 06:52 PM

    “If the Phillies want to maximize their win potential in 2016, they need to emphasize defense, shifts, pitching, positional flexibility, and putting the ball in play. ”

    Defense, positional flexibility, putting the ball in play…you do realize you just described Freddy Galvis, right?

  6. TheMick

    November 03, 2015 08:23 AM

    Agree 100% with Adam’s analysis, though it sounds like he’s leaning towards releasing Howard (if a trade can’t be worked out and that looks very doubtful considering how long they’ve tried to trade him). I have a hard time seeing the Phils release Howard since he’s viable in a platoon, not to mention he’s owed $35MM. However that would give Ruf a full season to see if he can hit RHP better once playing every day. One thing Ruf has going for him if he becomes the full-time 1B is he won’t have to look over his shoulder in 2016. There’s no one in the minors close to being ready to play 1B at the major league level. If Ruf struggles mightily against RHP I imagine he could be benched in favor of Blanco, but don’t expect Blanco to slash .290/.360/.502 again next year.

  7. TripNines

    November 05, 2015 01:45 PM

    Ruf seems to come up with the balls he gets to and unlike Howard, can make the throw to second base. I can’t speak for his range though. Analytics aside, the offensive production the Phillies received from the Ruf/Howard combo had they been strictly platooned would look a lot like this .280/.335/.532. Their total ABs (Ruf vs. LHP – Howard vs. RHP) adjusted for a full season would produce the following numbers 30 HRs and 97 RBIs. These numbers compare favorably with the production from other NL first basemen like Rizzo, Votto and Gonzalez.

    2016 will be a year full of growing pains and neither Howard nor Ruf figure in future plans so it remains to be seen how many ABs each will receive or whether they will even be around. However there are many teams that would benefit from the offense these two are capable of producing.

    You say that it makes no sense carrying 2 first baseman, but you seem to ignore the importance (luxury) of having a power bat on the bench, in this case, especially when a team brings in a reliever throwing from the opposite side as the starter.

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