The Phillies have played 20 games thus far this season. Most seasons that would in no way be news, considering that 20 out of 162 covers only 12% of the season, but for the 2013 Phillies it means a great deal.
Carlos Ruiz continues to serve his 25-game suspension for testing positive for Adderall. The league has allowed Chooch to play 5 Minor League rehab games before his suspension is officially lifted so that he will not be forced to spend extra time away from the Phillies once his suspension concludes.
Even though most fans appreciate Ruiz for his abilities and what he adds to the Phillies on a game-to-game basis, I want to revisit his effectiveness to underscore Ruiz’s overall awesomeness. From an overall production standpoint, Ruiz’s last three seasons have been fantastic.
In order to better digest those numbers, take this into account. Those value numbers have Chooch as the 5th best catcher in baseball since 2010 according to Baseball Prospectus and ranked 3rd over the same time frame according to Fangraphs. Given the fact that Ruiz’s average salary since 2010 has been just under $4 million per season, the Phillies have been getting incredible value from Chooch. While this sentiment might seem obvious to Phillies fans who have watched Ruiz perform, when the numbers backup observational data, it all but confirms those observations.
Since I can’t help but gush over Chooch, and I doubt any Phillies fan would want to stop me, here’s a bit more on his recent greatness. Offensively Ruiz has been a sensation. Here are some crucial numbers to prove that Ruiz has had not only a hot bat, but a consistent one at that.
Ruiz gets on base, mostly by hitting the ball, and his increase in power production has caused a swell in his three-year OPS and wRC+. More importantly, his approach at the plate has changed, with his line drive percentage from about 17% in the three seasons prior to 2010 to almost 22% after 2012. Carlos has kept his weight back more, allowing him to explode into the pitch, and he’s moved a bit closer to the plate, which better utilizes his slightly open approach.
When Ruiz moves his front foot in just before swinging, he can better drive pitches thrown towards the outside corner. Those slight changes in approach, combined with better selectivity of pitches, which often develops through better preparation, maturity, and experience, has put Ruiz in the top tier class of hitting catchers
While Chooch’s bat has been missed, it may be his defense that has left the more gaping hole. Ruiz isn’t one of the absolute best defensive catchers in the league, but he is by no means a slouch. He ranks 3rd in MLB since 2010 in defensive runs saved, showing overall solid defense behind the plate. Breaking that down a bit, Ruiz ranks highly at blocking pitches in the dirt, important when handling pitchers like Roy Halladay, Jonathan Papelbon, and Cole Hamels, and ranked 7th since 2010 in defending stolen base attempts.
The area in which Ruiz doesn’t profile well defensively is in pure receiving. Using Mike Fast’s research on pitch framing, Ruiz ranked 32nd in runs saved from pitching framing between 2007 and 2011. Still, as most Phillies fans know, he handles the staff incredibly well, and from what I’ve seen, his pitch sequencing is top 5 in the National League.
Carlos Ruiz is pretty awesome, isn’t he? So what do the numbers say about his 25-game replacements, Erik Kratz and Umberto Quintero? Through 20 games, Fangraphs has Kratz at exactly 0 wins, which is replacement level. Quintero has been worth only 0.1 wins according to Fangraphs, but that value has come in fewer games. According to Baseball Prospectus things actually get worse, with Kratz ranking as the 5th worst catcher in the league, and Quintero ranking as the 50th best.
Granted, no one expected Quintero and Kratz to perform at a Carlos Ruiz-like level in his absence, but their performances thus far have truly left something to be desired. Kratz’s biggest issue is that he swings far too often. His walk percentage is 1.6%, the lowest amongst all Phillies hitters who have recorded a walk. Kratz gets most of the plate appearances at the catcher position, so his 24.6 strikeout percentage is quite the appalling stat. Kratz’s biggest issue is his inability to work the count. He constantly falls behind 0-1 or gets into 2-strike counts, and not being anything special at the plate to begin with, the pitcher can dispatch of him with junk breaking balls thrown well out of the zone. In fact, the home run he hit on Sunday night was on a pitch well out of the strike zone, but instead of a breaking ball he miraculously got a fastball.
Quintero has played about as well as anyone expected him to thus far. In all of 14 plate appearances, Quintero has 4 hits and 5 strikeouts, but if Quintero adds anything to the team it’s his defense. He’s not the best, but he ranks higher than Ruiz in runs saved from pitch framing, and as a career backup, he’s amassed some solid defensive numbers behind the plate. Given the increase in potential wildness when the Phillies go from starters to bullpen (Aumont, Bastardo, Papelbon, and Adams), it’s hard to not want Quintero catching those pitchers. Unfortunately, since most teams carry only 2 catchers, the players who begins the game behind the plate will most likely end the game the same way.
Given that Chooch’s replacements have been subpar to say the least in his absence, it should come as a relief to learn that Ruiz is scheduled to return to the Phillies lineup on Sunday the 28th against the New York Mets. Ruiz hasn’t hit very well in his career against the Mets, so if just for the sake of bolstering his confidence when he returns, the Phillies may want to insert him into the lineup on Tuesday the 30th against the Cleveland Indians.
What should Phillies fans expect from Ruiz upon his return, other than an improvement over current “productivity?” Since Ruiz became a starter, he’s averaged 118 games played per season ( a median of 116). If we subtract 25 from that average and median we get 93 and 91 games respectively. Using some simple algebra and Chooch’s average fWAR since 2010, we can discern that if he plays 93 games this season he should be worth 3.1 fWins. Just to give some perspective, those 3.1 fWins are more than almost the entire Phillies roster was projected to compile sans Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.
What should you take away from all this? Carlos Ruiz will soon be back in the starting lineup and behind the plate for the Phillies. He’s been sorely missed, and if the Phillies plan on righting the ship moving forward, a healthy, productive, and most of all, un-suspended Carlos Ruiz will prove crucial. He’s the rock in the Phillies lineup, and as a fan, not seeing his name in the lineup immediately brings down the positive aura I usually feel before the start of each Phillies game. If Ryan Howard is “The Big Piece” than Carlos Ruiz should be known as “The Keystone”.