The Philadelphia Phillies are preparing to turn the page on their primary backstop for the last nine seasons, and one of the last two members of the 2008 world champions.
Baseball Prospectus recently released a new set of statistics in which they attempt to measure just how good a catcher is at defense. If you have followed this respected baseball resource over the past year, you know that they have been working on different sections of this catcher defensive evaluation. BP has now brought it all together to judge catchers with one score for each component.
When it comes to fielding, each resource that publishes information on defense can vary, sometimes wildly. Where one may discuss DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and judge a player using that method, another will have a different view and give the same player a totally different valuation.
BP’s fielding metric has to do with FRAA, or Fielding Runs Above Average. It is based on the same concept that other research organizations have used, only BP goes about settling on their valuation number in a different manner.
Without getting too much into the specifics involved in the BP process, it was fascinating to see what they have come up with as far as evaluating catchers. Some results are what one would expect. Right now, the top defensive catchers are rated as Francisco Cervelli, Yasmani Grandal, and Buster Posey.
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What we are interested in as Phillies fans is where our players fit, specifically our long time starter, Carlos Ruiz. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Chooch fans, but the results are ugly. Corinne Landrey at ‘Crashburn Alley’ does a great job in a recent report of presenting Ruiz’s career numbers, highlighting just how bad he’s actually been, statistically speaking.
Ruiz ranks at or near the bottom in all of the categories in which catching defense is evaluated: throwing out runners, keeping runner from running, blocking balls, and pitch framing.
When it comes to pitch framing, Ruiz is actually at the very bottom of the lists for all MLB catchers, which costs the Phillies almost 18 runs. Grandal, the leader, saved 25 runs in comparison.
In blocking balls in the dirt, Ruiz ranks towards the bottom with 0.0 runs saved. The leader checks in with 0.6 runs and the bottom is at -0.8 runs. In other words, the gap isn’t very large, which makes Ruiz not look as bad in that category.
Throwing runners and controlling the running game, however, finds Ruiz coming in near the bottom again, with -1.1 throwing runs in a category where Russell Martin, the leader, has 2.5 throwing runs. Add it altogether, and at the position of catcher, Ruiz is ranked dead last among catchers with a total -18.7 FRAA.
In the following video, ‘MLB Hot Stove’ studio analysts with the MLB Network discuss Ruiz, and the three-year, $26 million contract which the club had just committed to with him during the 2013 season. In retrospect, this appears to be yet another poor contract move by former GM Ruben Amaro Jr.
Deterioration in his defensive statistics shouldn’t be surprising. Ruiz will play the entirety of the 2016 season as a 37-year old. He is well past his prime. What should frustrate fans is that he is still getting a substantial amount of playing time and plate appearances on a rebuilding Phillies team, simply on reputation alone.
Is that reputation deserved? Not particularly, at least not if you believe the statistics. While it is hard to judge the intangible of communicating and working well with the pitching staff, Ruiz’s reputation as a strong defensive catcher seems largely undeserved.
What other options are available for the Phillies in the coming 2016 season? Well, look at Cameron Rupp‘s defensive numbers in comparison to Ruiz last year:
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While Rupp is no great shakes himself, he is better than Ruiz in each category. In the end, the statistical evaluation shows him to be a better defender. Last year, Ruiz received 21 more plate appearances overall than Rupp, and held an 83-80 advantage in games at the position, again during what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. The Phillies did seem to recognize this situation as the year moved along. Rupp received 143 plate appearances from August 1st onwards, with Ruiz receiving just 75.
With the Phillies’ pitching staff getting younger, it makes more sense for Pete Mackanin and his coaches to let the person who has caught them in the minor leagues, Rupp, receive more opportunities behind the plate. With the team already recognizing this, fans need to come to grips with the fact that the beloved ‘Chooch’ is no longer anything more than a backup.
Two of the happiest prospects in the organization have to be Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro at this point. They have to see the numbers and realize that the opportunity to seize the starting position in Philadelphia is there, because the current options are so poor.
While these metrics may be difficult for common fans to accept, it is hard to deny that Ruiz is no longer an everyday starting catcher. It’s time for the Phillies to see what the kids can do, and one place that should manifest itself is with Rupp’s immediate installation this year as the starting catcher.