TBOH Debate – Darin Ruf, Ethan Martin and the closer mentality
By Mike Lacy
Darin Ruf. Image Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports
Every week, the writers of That Ball’s Outta Here debate the key issues facing the Philadelphia Phillies. Joining me this week are Spencer Bingol, Alex Cheremeteff, and Michael Lecke. We will discuss the impending returns of Darin Ruf and Ethan Martin, and whether or not it requires a special mindset to close games.
Will the potential returns of Darin Ruf and Ethan Martin help the bench and bullpen?
Ethan Martin is significantly more impactful than Darin Ruf in the immediate future. Martin is a probable elite late-inning reliever, more than a mid-rotation starter. Seeing how the rotation has been pretty strong this season (allowing for Cole Hamels‘ annual early season hiccups) and the bullpen has been a nightmare, this is good news.
Best case scenario (and what I’m really feeling he could be), Martin steps in and basically becomes relied on as frequently as Jake Diekman has been. If we can alleviate pressure on those low-leverage relievers, and basically send out 2-3 of Martin/Diekman/Bastardo/Adams/Papelbon on most nights, I think we’ll see some decent improvement. Side note: Diekman has improved in a small amount of time. His first 9 appearances, he had 15/5 K/BB for a 7.56 ERA, and in his last 9 he’s put up 16/2 K/BB for a 2.53 ERA. Nice to see.
As far as Ruf goes, he is what he is. I’ve got a soft spot for him, and I enjoy to watch him play – however he and John Mayberry‘s skill set overlap too much for both to co-exist on the roster together. On top of that, when the other guy is making over $1.5 million… Your chances aren’t great to steal his roster spot.
Basically, both Mayberry and Ruf are right-handed power options off the bench, who will be listed on the depth chart as 1B/OF types. The differences are that Mayberry is less of an adventure defensively in the corners (and “plays” center field), and he’s better than just good against LHP; whereas Ruf probably hits RHP more competently, and has a little more power.
Considering both would be used against LHP the majority of the time (if we’re fortunate), I think for now I stick with Mayberry, keeping Ruf in AAA Lehigh Valley for the time being.
The returns of Darin Ruf and Ethan Martin can do nothing but help the team. Ruf will provide much-needed pop coming off the bench, as well as spelling Ryan Howard against tough lefties. Martin’s power arsenal is perfectly suited for late-inning situations.
The Phillies’ bench has been anemic to say the least. The trio of John Mayberry, Jr., Freddy Galvis and Jayson Nix has been atrocious. They combined for a grand total of two home runs. Nix had the highest batting average – a whopping .154. Galvis and Nix have, mercifully, been replaced. The best bet would be that Ruf would replace Mayberry.
Ruf would provide legitimate power who feasts on lefties and draws his fair share of walks.
Martin’s swing-and-miss stuff is sorely missed in the bullpen. His mid-90’s fastball and power curve and slider are just what the bullpen needs in late-game situations. As long as he can keep his walk rate in check, Martin will be a dominant force in the later innings.
The bench has not exactly been chock full of strong hitting options, so in theory Darin Ruf will help. The problem is, it seems a bit superfluous to have both him and Mayberry around. If the alternative was a non-factor like Jayson Nix, I would have kept him, but for the sake of positional flexibility and left-handedness, I think Cesar Hernandez is the better option.
Ethan Martin is very unproven, but he couldn’t possibly be worse than the other guys they’ve thrown out there. When used as a starter, most pundits thought he would excel as a reliever. Let’s hope that proves to be the case, and the Phillies might actually have another decent reliever on their hands.
Both guys have talent but aren’t likely to be difference makers. Ruf the Magic Darin is a real home run threat from the right side but he still strikes out way too much. He’s a decent first baseman but a poor outfielder and he won’t be regularly platooned with Ryan Howard at first base unless Ryan goes into a serious tailspin, in which case the Phillies are in even more trouble than they are now.
Ruf will get the occasional start at first base when Howard needs a rest against a tough lefty. He may also see occasional starts in the outfield but his defense out there is more likely to hurt the Phillies than his offense will help. It will be difficult for Ruf to get into any kind of groove with irregular playing time and limited ABs. Fans may not want to hear it but John Mayberry, Jr. gives the Phillies much of the same thing Ruf does, only with more experience and better defense.
Ethan Martin is still unproven in the majors and hasn’t shown he has the mentality or the command to be an effective late-inning stopper. I expect him to struggle much as he did last season. The last thing the Phillies need is another up-and-down, hot-and-cold reliever but they really have no choice at this point. In a perfect world the Phillies would keep Ruf and Martin in AAA Lehigh Valley and make them play their way back into the majors rather than trying to catch lightning in a bottle with limited playing time.
Antonio Bastardo. Image Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Does Antonio Bastardo‘s meltdown on Sunday make you think there’s something to the old belief that “You need a certain mentality to pitch in the ninth inning?”
I’m partially of the mind to just eliminate the traditional idea of a closer all together, and radically just use your best pitcher in the highest risk situation as it appears. But that would be stupid. Anyway – Bastardo particularly? I’m not even convinced it says HE gets nervous in the ninth.
He’s pitched 70.1 of his 211.2 major league innings in save situations. His 3.97 ERA, 2.97 K/BB, and .215 BAag in those situations aren’t far out of line with his career 3.78 ERA, 2.57 K/BB, and .206 BAag. My only real thought is, who the hell brings in a ground ball pitcher after him, with the tying run in scoring position and one out in the 9th?!?! YOU NEED A STRIKEOUT. THERE WASN’T EVEN SOMEONE ON FIRST TO GENERATE A DOUBLE PLAY.
But I digress. Bastardo can/has/will again pitch in high-leverage situations. Even Mario Hollands has already done it a couple of times without issue, and he’s only 14 innings out of AA (save for his debut – speaking of confusing pitching changes).
Sunday’s fiasco at Citi Field underscored two things: you cannot be afraid to throw strikes and you need to be a little ‘crazy.’ Many of the successful closers of the past twenty years were quirky and had short memories – Papelbon, Gossage, Eckersley, Williams, Wetteland, Beck. They would blow a game and forget about it as soon as they stepped off the field.
Antonio Bastardo is not the first, and won’t be the last pitcher who seems like he’s afraid to throw the ball for a strike. He has allowed the leadoff batter to reach in 10 of 17 appearances this season. Constantly nibbling around the plate and walking a batter an inning are the quickest way to go from flying first class to riding the buses from Allentown to Syracuse.
Jake Diekman had a similar situation earlier in the season. You have to be a ‘certain type’ to get the 27th out. When Papelbon can’t go, Ryne Sandberg may as well have the rest of the bullpen draw straws.
Bastardo has had issues no matter what inning he’s appeared in. The annoying thing is that he can be downright dominant in some appearances, but other times, he looks absolutely terrified. The worst thing is, you can usually tell right away when we’re getting “bad Bastardo.” At that point, it’s just a matter of how much cringing we’ll have to do.
While it might be slightly overblown, I do think a pitcher needs to have a slightly different mindset when pitching in the ninth. While every out might count the same statistically, as Yogi Berra once said, “Ninety percent of the game is mental.”
I think back to the days of Ryan Madson. Some claimed that it was just fluky that he struggled in the ninth early in his career. But Madson himself said that he needed to approach it differently than he did in the eighth.
Sure, it takes a certain kind of guy to be a closer, but its more about bouncing back quickly from a blown save than because the ninth inning is that much mentally tougher. Pinch hitters make the ninth inning more difficult and there is always added pressure when finishing a team off. But if you can’t nail down a regular season game in May because of the pressure of the ninth inning, then you won’t be much good in the seventh inning of a playoff game either. So it’s no excuse for a major league pitcher. Three outs is three outs.
Keith Hernandez said it best on the Mets broadcast: Bastardo is either unhittable or unwatchable. I don’t think he’s been unhittable this season, though, so maybe the unhittable part refers to the Bastardo of seasons past.
This season his velocity is down and his command has been terrible. Not only should he have been pulled from the game sooner than he was, he needs to go back down to AAA. The two-run home run he gave up was the result of failing to put a hitter away with an 0-2 count, then running a 3-1 count with awful offerings, capped off with a here-it-is-hit-me tomato that most AA prospects would have torched. It was disgusting and predictable considering the hemorrhaging Bastardo has done of late.
Blowing a three-run lead in the ninth inning on Mother’s Day after Cole Hamels gutted out a career high in pitches against the Mets, a divisional rival that typically gives him fits, was especially disheartening. It was not the Phillies finest moment and certainly not Ryne Sandberg’s finest moment as manager. Burning out Cole is a bad idea, especially knowing you have your fingers crossed without your closer available.
Both teams played like they are in a race for last place, which is the only race the Fightin’s look equipped to win at this point. Without question a handful of fans just abandoned the team, and I feel sorry for all the Philly Moms out there who had to deal with carloads of fed up kids and dads on the way home. You deserved better, Mom!
What do you think? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments section below.
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