The Phillies' first losing season since 2002 is sure to bring wholesale changes in the offseason. But who should stay and who should go? We’ve asked that very question for the last two weeks and will finish up our look at the roster in the coming days.
Thursday, we examined Cliff Lee (see story) and today we take a look at a homegrown power bat who filled in well in 2013:
Position: Corner outfield/first base
Status: Made a prorated portion of the major-league minimum in 2013; under team control through at least 2018
Season as a whole
Ruf had a very consistent second half filling in for Ryan Howard at first base and for the released Delmon Young in right field.
Ruf reached base at least once in 58 of 70 starts, and reached at least twice in 34 games. He hit 14 home runs in 293 plate appearances, which put him on a 32-homer pace over a full season.
His plate discipline was nearly as impressive. Ruf had 33 walks and was hit by seven pitches, giving him an on-base percentage 101 points higher than his batting average. The Phillie with the next largest gap between OBP and batting average was Chase Utley, at 64 points.
There were flaws in Ruf’s game, though. He struck out way too much -- 91 times in all. Extrapolate that over a full season and you have 202 strikeouts.
His outfield defense was shaky. Ruf, who had never played the outfield professionally prior to the winter of 2012, impressed at first because he wasn’t a train wreck like many expected. But as the season wore on his deficiencies in route running and throwing became apparent.
According to Fangraphs, he cost the Phillies 8.8 runs on defense. Is that number completely accurate? Probably not, because defensive metrics are all flawed. But it does match up enough with what our eyes saw to help determine that Ruf was truly a below-average corner outfielder.
Again, not his fault. He’s a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder who had almost no experience chasing after fly balls.
Stay or go
The decision on Ruf will be one of the most interesting of the Phillies’ offseason. He certainly proved in 2013 that he can hit major-league pitching. But if the Phillies head into 2014 with a corner outfield of Domonic Brown and Ruf they’ll again struggle with outfield defense, which has been a problem the Phils have talked about correcting (but haven’t) for two straight seasons.
Ruben Amaro Jr. admitted at the end of September that Ruf isn’t an everyday rightfielder, and that despite his strong offensive half he’ll have to battle for a job next spring. It’s difficult to pinpoint what that job may be. Is Ruf a platoon first baseman with Howard? Is he a bench bat? Is he a super-sub who might see 3-4 days per week in the starting lineup between first base and the corner outfield?
Or is he trade bait? At 27, Ruf isn’t the kind of young centerpiece teams look for in deals. But that might not matter as much as most think. He’s still incredibly cheap and under team control for five-plus years. He’s just entering his prime. We’re talking about a player with 30-home run potential who will make about $500,000 next season. The Phillies could make use of that if they didn’t have so much money committed at first base or if they didn’t have so many defensive problems in the outfield.
Five years ago Ruf would have been a great fit for the Phils. He could have played left field with Shane Victorino in center and Jayson Werth in right. He has many of the same skills as Pat Burrell, who was also a weak defender. But it’s a new day. And unfortunately, the young, improving, inexpensive guy may be the odd man out.
Considering right field is essentially the only everyday position the Phillies can upgrade this offseason, it’s safe to assume Ruf will either be a super-sub for the Phils or a player who gets traded as part of a package for a star. (Giancarlo Stanton or Jose Bautista, anyone?)
It’s not because Ruf isn’t or can’t be productive. It’s because the fit just isn’t there. That’s more of an indictment of how the Phillies have spent their money and filled out their roster than of Ruf’s play.
What they're saying ...
“In right field, we don’t know what we’ve got. That’s a hole for us. Ruf is not a rightfielder. I think he can fill in for us. I think he can fill in in certain areas, but I can’t sit here and tell you that he’s an everyday player for us. He’s going to have to fight for a job in some way, shape or form.
“Can he add some depth to our bench, to our club overall? Can he play a little left, can he play a little right, can he play a little first and give [Ryan] Howard a blow? He can become valuable in that regard. But I don’t know he’s an everyday player yet. It’s hard to say that he’s an everyday player in the outfield. I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice, because we just need to be better in the outfield defensively. ... We have the type of pitching staff that is going to rely on us catching the baseball.”
--Ruben Amaro, September 2013