Sep 1, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Darin Ruf (18) is congratulated by second baseman Kevin Frandsen (28) after hitting a solo home run during the fourth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Reid Compton-USA TODAY Sports

Why Darin Ruf deserves a chance at first base

With Ryan Howard slumping hugely, Ryne Sandberg made the eyebrow-raising decision to bring Darin Ruf to Philadelphia. Many expected an impending trade, possibly including the heavily rumoured Marlon Byrd, and for the Phils to use Ruf as the replacement outfielder.

However, it became apparent that this wasn’t the case. The word ‘platoon’ started getting banded around, and soon enough Phillies fans knew that Sandberg had made a judgement call to see what Ruf could do at first game.

In many ways it pleased me; it was nice to see Sandberg completely ignore the contract situation and just focus on doing the best for the team and developing players.

For once, the idea of actually winning baseball games and freshening up the line-up looked more important than anything else. Of course, it isn’t like replacing a guy a first hitting .250 with a guy hitting .290 in the minors, and Ruf hardly generates much excitement as a replacement player or a guy to share the platoon role with, but he deserves the opportunity in my book.

First things first, let’s look at how bad Ryan Howard actually was. Well, in 2014, he has so far hit .224 in 97 games and 371 at-bats, which is a whole 43 points below his MLB career average of .267. This is disappointing from one of the core players, but it was perhaps to be expected, and here’s why:

It’s been an up and down sort of career for Howard. Last season for example, he hit .266 in 80 games, in 2012 it was .219 in 71 games, and in 2011 it was .253 in 152 games. In terms of batting average, he’s been really inconsistent, and it’s the same with OBP, which from 2014-2011 reads .305, .319, .295 and .346.

The home-run numbers on the other hand just show such a decline in power, or lack of utilisation of power. From 2006 through to this season, Howard’s homer totals are 58, 47, 48, 45, 31, 33, 14, 11 and 15. Yes, he is having much less game time, but that just shows how he is no longer an everyday power hitting first baseman.

I’m not saying you should expect a slump from one of the biggest offensive producers in franchise history, but maybe expecting .260 with a .350 OBP and 40 homers is a bit unrealistic. Don’t get me wrong, what he has done this season (or rather hasn’t done) has been frustrating and disheartening, but sometimes I feel for Ryan. Some fans can turn so quickly.

Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

 

Back to Darin Ruf and why, in my opinion, he deserves a shot to impress at first base. Call me crazy (or biased!), but Darin has always been one of my favorite players.

This season for the Phillies he has been pretty awful, but it’s such a small sample size to go on. Only 19 at-bats in the Majors, split by a lengthy stint in the Minors, and that’s why in my view he hasn’t yet been given a fair crack of the whip, so to speak. Ruf has played 32 games at AAA this season, registering a .237 average, a .298 OBP and a .322 slugging percentage, so hardly groundbreaking numbers.

However, given the game time he has had this year, I feel a more relevant and comparable statistic is his 2013 season. It’s unlikely he has regressed from last season, so it should indicate his ability a bit more over the 156 games he played in 2013. Of those games, 73 were for the Phillies (the other 83 at Lehigh Valley), and he didn’t do disastrously bad.

Over 251 at-bats, Ruf hit .247 with a .348 OBP and a .458 SLG. Those aren’t bad numbers at all; it shows he can hit and work the count, what more do you need? He also hit 14 homers, which was 3 more than Ryan Howard in 7 fewer games.

At Lehigh Valley last season Darin was also pretty successful, hitting .266 with a .343 OBP and a .407 slugging percentage, over 83 games and 305 ABs. Again, those are quite impressive numbers, and Triple-AAA is hardly a walk in the park.

Who can forget the 2012 stint in the Majors for Ruf? It was short, but in 33 at-bats he managed 11 hits (and thus a .333 average) as well as 3 homers. Over his Major League career of 96 games he is hitting over .250, and .295 over 573 Minor League games.

Turning 28 in just two days time, Ruf no longer has the ‘young’ thing going for him. It might be fair to argue that if Darin was destined to be an everyday Major League player then he would have developed into one by now. I think he just needs more time, give him a continued run at Major League level and results will come. In the platoon role he will likely hit better due to favourable match-up, so why not give it a go?

It would be nice to see the Phillies Phaithful get right behind him, as this may be his last shot to prove he has what it takes to cut it at Major League level.

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