Friday, May 18, 2012

Carlos Ruiz is seeing the ball really well

The Philadelphia Phillies have struggled out of the gate this season and it was a big story when the team finally went a game over .500 last night. For a team accustomed to the post season, it has been a bit of an inglorious start. Lost in that story of age and injuries is the superb season that Carlos Ruiz is putting up both behind the plate and beside it. With a quarter of the season nearly in the books, Ruiz is having a career year. Phillies fans call him, "Chooch," and they have been shouting "Choooooch!" often this season. 

The standardized numbers tell part of his amazing season. His triple slash line of: .363/.405/.619 lead to an impressive 1.024 OPS. With seven homers, he has already surpassed his last season totals and again, with the season only a quarter over, he already has nearly half as many total bases as last year. Last year, Ruiz drove in 40 runs all season. This season, he already has 27 RBI. His batting average is fifth best in the majors right now.

If you dig deeper, you start to see a little further into how well Ruiz is actually hitting. His current wOBA of .432 is ninety-nine points higher than his career average of .333 and is ninth best in the majors. His wRC+ of 175 easily beats his 100 career average and is tenth in the majors this season. 

But what the numbers really show is that he is seeing the ball really, really well. The first piece of evidence pointing in that direction is that his strikeout rate is down. Ruiz has never been a big strikeout guy, but his career average is 10.8 percent and he has never had a season below ten percent. This season, he is striking out an only a 9.5 percent clip.

The second bit of evidence that he is seeing the ball really well is his contact rate. Ruiz isn't the most discriminating of swingers as he is not greatly selective at the plate. But his contact rate on strikes has been phenomenal. When Carlos Ruiz swings at a pitch in the strike zone, he makes contact 96.9 percent of the time. He was as high as 99.1 percent as late as early this week. That contact rate in the strike zone is fourth best in the majors. Yes, it would not be a stretch to say he is seeing the ball really well. One last bit of evidence: His swinging strike percentage is only 6.2 percent. That is excellent.

And what about his defense? In that area, he is also having his best season. For his career, Ruiz has been exactly league average in throwing out base steal attempts at 27 percent. This season, he is at 38 percent, much higher than the league average. And most impressively, he has only allowed one passed ball and only two wild pitches have gotten by him. Ruiz has yet to make an error. 

Clearly, to this point, Carlos Ruiz is having a career year. But can it last? Predicting he will do so is always troubling because of his position. We never hear the full story of the dings and dents catchers get during the season and now it relates to their batting. Catchers never tell those things. It's almost like a rite of passage for the position. And yet, it has to affect a catcher's offense to have hands, fingers and other extremities consistently bombarded with foul tips and other things that happen.

Taking the position out of the equation, are there other signs that he could regress? His BABIP is a bit high at .353. But if he is seeing the ball as well as he is, of course he is hitting the ball hard. Ruiz has always been higher than the norm at hitting line drives and this season is no exception. But yes, the BABIP should mellow out a bit to his .335 and .308 numbers he's had in that area in the last two seasons.

You have to take Ruiz's power numbers as a bit of a fluke. Ruiz has never hit more than nine in a season. He should fly by that this season with seven already. But he can't sustain his home run to fly ball rate, which is sitting at 22.6 percent. With a career average in that category of 7.1 percent, it would be a huge surprise if Ruiz hits more than fifteen homers by season's end.

To this observation deck, Ruiz is a terrific catcher and in many ways the soul of the Phillies. While that sounds like MSM rhetoric, Ruiz has always seemed to be one of the cores of the Phillies' success. As such, it is rewarding to see him having such a great year at the plate. Yes, he is due to regress a bit and as a catcher, anything can happen. But as of right now, Carlos Ruiz is raking and having the best season of his career.

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