Phillies Darin Ruf on Final Shot?
By Matt Veasey
The Philadelphia Phillies have a number of players who have been around for a few years, and appear to be running out of time with the ball club.
After the 2015 season ended it was disappointing outfielder Domonic Brown to whom the Phillies said goodbye. At some point either during or after the coming 2016 season, the club will say their goodbyes to former champs and longtime starters Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz.
Another player who is at or near the end of the line with the team is first baseman/outfielder Darin Ruf. Not a kid, Ruf will turn 30-years old this coming summer. There is no way that the big righty can be considered as a piece of the rebuilding plan to which the team is committed.
Usually in pieces having to do with the potential of a first base platoon, I have written on Ruf here previously. Just as Howard’s miserable numbers against left-handed pitching do not lie, neither do Ruf’s against righties.
In parts of four big league seasons with the Phillies, Ruf has accumulated a .212/.281/.380 slash line over 456 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. He has 37 extra-base hits among his 87 total hits off right-handers, including 16 home runs.
Compare that to his numbers vs. left-handed pitching: a .300/.390/.556 slash line with 73 total hits, including 29 extra-base hits, 16 of those as home runs. Those numbers are put together in just 288 plate appearances. A comparison of those numbers against righties and lefties demonstrates clearly that he needs to be platooned at this point in his career.
Phillies’ skipper Pete Mackanin addressed the possible platoon issue recently. As quoted by Philly Voice’s Ryan Lawrence:
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"“Darin Ruf is a pretty good weapon against left-handed pitchers…I’d like to get him in the lineup against lefties because he does such damage against them…The plan is to come up with the best combination where Howard is going to get sufficient at-bats to have a good year and so is Ruf, and you combine the two, and if we have a super year out of first base, it’s going to benefit the team.”"
Unlike Howard, Ruf is not costing the Phillies any real money at all. He has made $500,000 and $515,000 the past two seasons. He is not eligible for arbitration until next winter, so he likely won’t cost the Phillies much more this year.
And unlike the now 36-year old ‘Big Piece’, Ruf is not too old that he cannot have a role as the Phillies move forward. As long as his arbitration asking price is not too large (he won’t become a free agent until after the 2019 season), and he continues to pound lefties, he may be able to find a place as a backup first baseman and left fielder as the rebuilding process moves forward, becoming a dangerous righty bat off the bench against lefty relievers.
Of course this could also be a last chance for Ruf. There is a very real chance that Howard will be dealt at some point during the 2016 season. If that should happen, with few other short-term options available, Ruf could be given a shot as the everyday first baseman against all pitching.
At his age and experience level, expecting some sort of revelatory breakout against righty pitchers is not going to happen. Ruf is what he is, a good option against lefty arms, mostly a waste against righties, and a below-average defender at any position, including first base. Baseball Reference had him as a -3 Rtot (Total Fielding Runs Above Average) player at the position in 2015. That’s not good.
At some point, Ruf is going to come up against a wave of young talent that will be emerging from the minor leagues over the next two seasons. Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera, Peter Bourjos, and Tyler Goeddel are already here in the outfield. All are younger and far more capable defensively.
The club moved Cody Asche out to left field last season, and is likely to utilize him as a backup there and at 3rd base again in 2016. Asche may even see some backup first base time. He could even keep Ruf in a platoon role if Howard is dealt.
As the team moves forward, it will need to find room for outfielders Nick Williams and Roman Quinn. Current catching prospect Jorge Alfaro could end up at first base or on an outfield corner. And in a couple of years, Cornelius Randolph will be knocking on the big league door.
All that upcoming competition doesn’t even include the possibility that 26-year old minor league first baseman Brock Stassi could himself push to challenge for a short-term shot at the position at the Major League level. And who knows what the club might do with their #1 pick in the upcoming MLB Amateur Draft.
Just as 2015 proved to be the final shot in the Phillies career of Dom Brown, 2016 could very well prove the final shot with the team for Ruf. A 20th round draft pick of the Phils in 2009 out of Creighton University, he has already beaten the odds in reaching the big leagues and staying for parts of four seasons. Unless something unexpected happens, it could prove his own final season in red pinstripes.