As Delmon Young Experiment Begins, So Too Does Darin Ruf Watch

As Delmon Young Experiment Begins, So Too Does Darin Ruf Watch
May 1, 2013, 12:35 pm


Guest post by Matt Hammond

The Delmon Young experiment is off to a good enough start.

He
went yard in his first at-bat as a Phillie, a solo shot in the second
inning of his first start off the DL, the same day he’d been activated,
hours before his new club’s disastrous 14-2 loss to the Cleveland
Indians last night. Young went 2 for 3 with no walks or strikeouts, was
hit by a pitch and was the only one on the team to get multiple hits off
right-handed Indians starter Zach McAllister.

[mlbvideo id="26724051" width="640" height="330" /]

But now, the clock
is ticking on him. How long does GM Ruben Amaro give his prized $750,000
"low-risk, high-reward" flyer-type move? One month? Two? Six? A handful
of weeks?

Until Darin Ruf is ready?

The interconnectedness
between Young and Ruf now is fascinating. Amaro admitted when he
introduced Young that it was likely he'd start the year on the DL, and
whether it was by design or accident created an intriguing timeline for
his corner outfield hitting options to shake out.

Young debuting
yesterday gave that timeline life. Now, Young will be evaluated --
likely against scouting reports of Ruf's progress at the plate and in
left field at Triple-A.

Of course, if Young excels, the point's
moot. Even if he's only the 21 or 18 home run-a-year guy he was in two
of three seasons prior, Jimmy Rollins is the only other current Phillie
not named Ryan Howard to rake for 20 or more in a year since 2009.
That's Young’s stay-alive pace, for sure.

What becomes interesting
is the middle ground. What's Young's deal-breaking production level?
(He's hit no higher than .270/.305/.415 his last two years, though he
also said he was "playing on one leg” thanks to an issue microfracture
ankle surgery should have corrected – assuming it doesn’t knock him
three steps backward before he can even begin thinking about inching
forward.) And if he dips below it, what does Ruf have to do at Triple-A
to justify a switch?

Whatever it is, the .256/.311/.476 line Ruf’s currently working at Lehigh Valley probably isn’t it. (And that, by the way, is with a
.321 BABIP.) Through 22 games, Ruf's had the same power slump as
Howard, with only three HRs and 12 RBIs. Then again, he only had two in
23 games in April in Double-A last year, and did well for himself as the
weather warmed.

But the same goes for Ruf: what’s his
deal-breaking defensive ability? In spring training, Ruf booted two
balls on 22 chances, and that doesn’t begin to account for the balls he
misplayed or couldn’t get to. In Lehigh Valley, he’s erred only once in
32 chances, and has displayed decent range (2.07 RF).

It’s worth
knowing, the Phillies have deployed some atrocious left fielders in
recent years. Of 211 player seasons over the last three years, only
three LFs cost their NL teams more defensive runs than did Raul Ibanez
in 2011 (minus-23). Over the span, Ibanez’s minus-18.9 UZR ranked
second-last. And if you think that’s bad: Pat Burrell’s minus-20.9 URZ
in 2007 was the worst of any Phillies LF in the Charlie Manuel era. His
minus-17 DRS was second-worst. As for balls he actually got to, his .948
fielding percentage ranked the fourth-worst of any qualifying NL left
fielder since 1970.

The difference? Burrell made $13.25 million that year, Ibanez $12.7 million.

Ruf, if he gets another callup, will be slated to earn $480,000 – less than even Young.

Ruf's
chances of making the 25-man roster out of spring camp were probably
steep anyway. But it's hard to believe that he struggled so poorly as a
left fielder without warning. Maybe scouts in attendance at his
Venezuelan Winter League games were overly optimistic with their reports
back to the general manager. If not, it's hard to believe 30 or so
exhibition games in February/March could've ever impressed enough to
make him a regular option. Decision-makers had to know that in advance.

It
makes you wonder: if two home runs in 19 Grapefruit League games with
.246/.328/.456 line clearly wasn't enough for him to hit his way on the
roster, what was? What about if he could've projected landing spots
enough to turn and run or, you know, caught balls when he got there?

It’s an interesting mix, and with Young’s debut yesterday, that timeline begins to move.

The next blip, of course, being the trade deadline.

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