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.
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.
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.