New Everyday Starters — Sep 1, 2021

Today is likely the final new everyday starters post of the week, unless a flurry of players are recalled and expected to play regularly. This trio is an interesting mix, so let’s dive in.

Keibert Ruiz | WAS C

I originally wrote about Ruiz at the beginning of August, after he was traded to the Nationals. At the time, he figured to be recalled quickly and become the team’s regular catcher. That didn’t happen, as it took a month for him to receive a promotion, but he’s finally up now. While Riley Adams is still expected to get a start or two, I would assume Ruiz will receive the lion’s share of playing time behind the plate.

Ruiz is the team’s second ranked prospect and 38th overall, though we’ve seen time and time again, catcher prospects disappoint. That said, Ruiz owns a unique offensive profile that might help him avoid becoming part of that group. He rarely strikes out and he actually walked one more time that he struck out during his time at Triple-A with the Nationals. Avoiding strikeouts is obviously a wonderful thing, as it results in more balls in play, which means the potential for higher counting stats and a better batting average.

However, most hitters who strike out infrequently lack any sort of power. Ruiz is not one of those hitters. His HR/FB rate has sat in the mid-teens during his stints at Triple-A, while his ISO sat at an elite .320 during his time in the Dodgers Triple-A system earlier in the year, and .269 at the level with the Nationals. It’s rare to find that combination of contact ability and power. The hitter I always think of is Albert Pujols, whose career strikeout rate is just 10.6%, while his ISO sits at .247. It’s why he’s a no-doubt hall of famer.

Ruiz has also become an extreme fly ball hitter. That’s great for his home run potential, as a teen HR/FB rate combined with his low strikeout rate could make him one of the best power sources at catcher. Of course, it has its downside too, as his BABIP hasn’t been above .300 since 2017. Luckily he strikes out so infrequently, so his batting average should still be good, but a better BABIP could make him a .300 hitter.

Ruiz’s minor league history makes him look like as much of a lock to hit as it gets, making him an immediate pickup in all league formats if you need a catcher.

Jose Marmolejos | SEA OF

The Mariners continue to cycle through the same hitters and Marmolejos is now back after a sub-.300 wOBA earned him a demotion to Triple-A earlier in the season. He debuted last year and hit a bunch of home runs, but ultimately posted just a .287 wOBA.

But something may have clicked during the 28-year-old’s time at Triple-A this year. His walk rate doubled into the mid-teens. His strikeout rate remained below 20%, backed by a single digit SwStk%. He continued to hit a high rate of line drives to support an inflated .382 BABIP. Finally, his burgeoning power reached new heights, as his HR/FB rate and ISO hit professional highs of 29.9% and .340, respectively. This merely continues the trend of improved power that began in 2019.

The caveat here is that this was his third go-around at Triple-A, so his success there might not translate to the Majors. Combine that with his age, and he’s the epitome of what some might believe is a “Quadruple-A hitter”. The only way to find out is to give him more than the 211 MLB plate appearances he currently has under his belt. Marmolejos was just recalled yesterday, started in left field, and homered.

With Jake Fraley on the IL, Dylan Moore sporting a .272 wOBA, and Jake Bauers with an even worse .261 wOBA, the Mariners don’t exactly have any standout alternatives. So it would make sense to give Marmolejos an extended look to see if that Triple-A success was any bit real. As a left-handed batter, he might settle into a platoon with Moore, only facing right-handed starters, but that could still be enough playing time to accrue value in deeper mixed and AL-Only leagues…if he did indeed figure something out at Triple-A this year.

Matt Duffy | CHC 2B/3B

It’s pretty surprising to see that the rebuilding Cubs have decided to make Duffy their starting second baseman, as he’s 30 years old and is now on his third team since 2016. How ever the team make that decision, Duffy is playing most days and hitting in the middle of the team’s lineup. With David Bote now on the IL, his playing time has gotten a bit more secure.

Duffy has only enjoyed two seasons with more than 500 plate appearances, but we still pretty much known what kind of hitter he is. He makes excellent contact, sporting mid-single digit SwStk% over most of his career and a career strikeout rate in the mid-teens. He also owns a batted ball profile heavy on line drives and light on fly balls and pop-ups. It’s the type that should result in an above average BABIP, but limit his home run output. Sure enough, he owns a career .329 BABIP, which has led to a .279 batting average.

His batted ball profile fits his strengths as his career HR/FB rate is just 6.3%, with a sub-.100 ISO. So even if he hit more fly balls, we still wouldn’t see many home runs because such a low rate of those fly balls jump over the wall. So he certainly knows who he is as a hitter. He has swiped more bases over his career than he has hit home runs, but he’s by no means a big basestealer. Over 600 PAs, he has averaged around seven homers and 13 steals, which seems boring, but definitely has value in deeper leagues. When you remember that he should be at worst neutral in batting average, in a year when the league batting average is just .242, the lowest mark since 1968, you actually have a surprisingly valuable player.

I don’t know how long a rebuilding team wants to keep trotting out a 30-year-old with a career .313 wOBA, but as long as it continues, he’s worthy of a deep league roster spot.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Jimmy von Albade
Jimmy von Albade

The Cubs really don’t have much of an alternative to Duffy right now. Their other options are Andrew Romine (35 years old) or Sergio Alcantara, who has a .600 OPS and would still leave you with Andrew Romine at short in that case. The roster is so rough right now they’re still getting plenty of chances to see if younger players can break out. Might as well do it elsewhere on the diamond since 2B is one position they surely have covered next year.