The Power of Carlos Ruiz

During the 2008 World Series a few friends and I began calling Carlos Ruiz “Babe Ruiz”. The light hitting 29-year-old catcher in his second season was destroying the Tampa Bay Rays. He hit .375/.500/.688 in the five games compared to .219/.320/.300 during the regular season. We were miffed and upset that our beloved Rays were getting destroyed by Carlos F’ing Ruiz.

He’s come a long way since then.

The 2012 season was a breakout for Ruiz. He had been good the previous two seasons, hitting a combined .292/.385/.415, but never had much of an impact in standard 5×5 leagues outside of batting average. Last season he set career highs in all five categories: R (56), HR(16), RBI(68), SB(4), and AVG(.325) in just 114 games for a team that was in the bottom half of the league in runs scored. Those numbers were good enough to place him sixth (12$) in our end of season rankings. The question for Ruiz is, can he do it again?

Well, probably not. His HR/FB percentage was 15.1%, more than double what it was the previous two seasons, which helps explain some of his power surge. His LD% was also a career high 24%, though that’s risen steadily every season since 2008. It’s rare for a player to come into their peak at age 33, let alone sustain it through age 34 and beyond. What’s more interesting to me is his aggressiveness at the plate.

Putting it simply, he’s swinging a lot more. The league average Swing% has stayed the same from 2008-2012 (46%) but Ruiz’s has increased 10% from 37% to 47%. Like his LD%, his O-Swing% has risen every year since 2008, topping off at 28% last season which was three percent higher than 2011. Logically, his Z-Swing% has increased to league average levels as well. He’s swung more but has been able to maintain an above average contact rate which is one of his better skills. Only nine players had an O-Swing% of 32% or more and a contact rate of 86% or more, and Ruiz was one of them.

I’m not going to definitively state that an increased aggressiveness at the plate is the reason for his success this season, but it certainly hasn’t hurt him yet. If he keeps up the trend and increases his O-Swing% for a sixth straight season I’m guessing his contact rate will decline slightly. He’s a better real life player than fantasy player thanks to his outstanding on base percentage. If you’re in a league that counts OBP, as you should be in my opinion, then Ruiz’s value increases. I wouldn’t count on him to match last year’s totals, though. The batting average that was a big source of his value this season will almost certainly decrease and unless his HR/FB% is at or above 15% it’s unlikely he’s hitting 15+ home runs. He’s a nice complimentary player but not the star he looked like in 2012.

We hoped you liked reading The Power of Carlos Ruiz by Erik Hahmann!

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Erik writes for DraysBay and has also written for Bloomberg Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ehahmann.

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Gman
Guest
Gman

I think I stumbled on the most important explanation for Ruiz stellar season. Prior to last year 64% of Ruiz plate appearances were spent batting in front of the pitcher (1365 our of 2137). Last year he only had only 9 out of 417 plate appearances in front of the pitcher. Huge difference

Ruiz Career slash line as an 8 hole hitter: .248/.352/.369 for a .721 OPS
Ruiz Career slash line in all other spots: .306/.380/.473 for a .853 OPS*

* (from 2010-2012 that latter slash goes up to .313/.390.486 for an .876 OPS)

So given his career and recent production hitting outside the dreaded NL 8-hole his .934 OPS doesn’t look like such a glaring outlier. I’m not sure how difficult it is on a hitter’s hitting approach to go from 8th to somewhere else as much as Ruiz did prior to last year. I would think there is some benefit to being able to maintain one consistent approach. There’s no question NL 8 hole hitters have to approach their at bats much differently then in any other spot.

Ruiz final numbers last year may also have benefited from missing so much of the end of season. Sept/Oct can often put a drag on the stats of NL catchers who catch 5-6 games every week.

So, if he stays out of the 8hole next year I think something between last years .934 OPS and his career .853 OPS (outside the 8 hole) should be achievable. I think an .880-.900 OPS would be a fair expectation. That puts him way up in the catcher ranks. You just have to temper that ranking with the age/injury risks and projected nap-time associated with a 34 yr old NL catcher (not to mention the small risk that Charlie will stick him back in the 8 hole).

As an aside, I drafted Ruiz last year and when the breakout came I started thinking HGH. Then he got plantar (McGwire’s first malady) and I really got worried that Ruiz might be a suspension waiting to happen and dropped him. When he came back on waivers I did the assessment above to see just how big a fluke his season was before picking him up. It seems his numbers are much more legit then they first appeared when you look at the 8 hole issue.