While the season is still less than a month old, the Philadelphia Phillies are sitting at .500, clinging onto a record better than that of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels. To the chagrin of many, the Phillies have already outperformed the expectations many have had for them since the winter. The outlook in Philadelphia is looking a little bit sunnier and it’s due to an innocuous staple in the Phillies lineup: catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Known as Chooch, the Phillies catcher has been adequate at the plate, hitting for a sound .270 AVG. His one HR and six RBI suggest mediocrity at its finest but there is a lot more to the story. We’ll take a metric-based look at his performance shortly.
Fresh off of a series win in Los Angeles, Chooch was the primary driver to seal the series victory with a three hit, two walk display propelling the Phillies to undermine the more heavy-handed Dodgers lineup. Recognition for this performance on the West Coast is due for Ruiz. Aside from bullpen woes, Chooch has continued to be a positive factor in the field. At the plate, he is rewriting a more favorable script as well.
According to FanGraphs, Weighted Runs Above Average (wRAA) is a metric used to quantify “the number of offensive runs a player contributes to their team compared to the average player.” The league average wRAA is zero. Of all qualifying catchers, Ruiz presently boasts the fifth best wRAA in Major League Baseball (4.0). Only Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters, Jonathan Lucroy and Josmil Pinto have fared better to date. Ruiz’s wRAA is also four or more points better than that of Buster Posey, Brian McCann and Salvador Perez.
Isolated Power (ISO), another metric used to deepen statistical analysis of a player’s performance, favors Ruiz as well. According to FanGraphs, ISO measures “a hitter’s raw power” and “how good a player is at hitting for extra bases.” Among Phillies, Chooch is third behind only Utley and Howard. Among those at his position, Ruiz is fourth in MLB. Only Wieters, Pinto and Jason Castro have displayed more raw power to date. Yadier Molina, Posey, Lucroy, McCann and Wilin Rosario have fared worse than Ruiz.
At age 35, Ruiz is looking more like the hare than the tortoise. The Phillies hope he finishes in similar fashion to the tortoise, not the hare though. A strong start coupled with the need for an over-achievement of sorts in the lineup, is exactly what the Phillies need out of Chooch. So long as he continues to placate those demands, he will remain one of the more elite all-around catchers in baseball, something he isn’t particularly known for. With Ruiz’s play early on, the Phillies remain a formidable force in the National League.
Should Ruiz slow down at the plate, the Phillies would feel the difference. The catcher has the third best offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) on the team to date. With a 2.8 oWAR, Chooch is just one of four Phillies sluggers with an oWAR above 1.0. Domonic Brown, Wil Nieves, Ben Revere, Marlon Byrd and Cody Asche are all posting an oWAR in the negative.
The significance of Ruiz cannot be overstated. His prowess behind the dish is well documented. Chooch’s rediscovered dexterity in the batter’s box shouldn’t go unnoticed either. Alongside Utley and Howard, Ruiz is making the Phillies lineup tick.
At the moment, the Phillies are tied with the Texas Rangers as MLB’s eleventh best team offensively in runs scored. They are faring better than the Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves early on.
A bullpen not worth the paper money is printed on has been disastrous for them. If Chooch could throw some heat (and catch it too) in relief, the Phillies might be tops in their division. Until he can do that, we have to settle for the wholesomeness he is currently administering to a dejected fan base.
As crazy as it sounds, Ruiz may actually be saving Ruben Amaro Jr.’s job as general manager.