The Chooch Cometh: Ten Days Out, What Can Carlos Ruiz's Return Mean to Phillies?

The Chooch Cometh: Ten Days Out, What Can Carlos Ruiz's Return Mean to Phillies?

Guest post by Matt Hammond

Erik Kratz and Humberto Quintero have combined to hit .167/.164/.278 so far this season, with each of those being in the bottom four in baseball among catchers, and the OBP being dead-last.

And so, Carlos Ruiz becomes the Phillies early-season white knight, scheduled to ride in 10 games and 10 days from now, when his 25-game suspension ends – even though he’s presumed to be less than he was last season.

There’s good reason for the sentiment, whether he's who he was last year or before.

While Ruiz enjoyed a much-improved power stroke last season, in the rest of his game, he was pretty much the same player, which is to say a good one.

The uptick in his .325 average (.042) is almost perfectly accounted for by a bump in his batting average on balls in play (.031), often a measure of luck.

For the Phillies, Ruiz's .281 previous three-year average would be third-best among qualifying hitters on the team this season, behind Michael Young (.346) and Chase Utley (.283).

That lends itself to the lineup shuffle they need, letting Jimmy Rollins reassume lead-off duties, Young to jump to No. 2 and Ruiz to slide in behind Ryan Howard.

There’s more to blame for the Phillies 20th in baseball 50 runs scored so far, but Ben Revere’s .194/.242/.194 line is certainly among them. And while Revere may improve without leadoff-man pressure, even if he didn’t, his current slash line would make for just under the big-league
average for eight-hole hitters.

With Young, if his .884 OPS holds up, great. If not, his average, on-base percentage and overall instincts – who he really is, anyway – make him a perfect fit in the two-hole, considered along with the three-hole where your best hitter belongs.

They'll likely miss some power. Ruiz's 2012 home run rate was about that of Matt Weiters, whose 23 bombs were second among catchers, and his .935 OPS was just below Buster Posey’s best in the bigs. The Phillies rank 19th in baseball in home runs (13) and extra-base hits (40) through 15 games.

Ruiz also caught a career-high 34.0 percent of base stealers last year.

But even then, there’s upside. Or at the very least, status quo from Kratz.

The take in Ruiz’s 2012 was plate patience, seen in his career-low walk rate (6.9%) and near-career-high strikeout rate (11.9%), both notably worse than in 2011.

Maybe this year he reverts back to old tendencies and walks, and helps boost the team’s lowly .291 OBP and consequent scoring slumps. And if Ruiz rekindles his .847 OPS from 2010, he’d fall in line with the
five-hole hitting Howard cozied up to from 2007-2009, when the Phillies team five-hole OPS ranked 2nd in the NL each year, and when Howard was in the last of his home run-hitting prime.

Worst-case scenario: Ruiz's three-year prior OPS reemerges, and the Phillies five-hole hitting is precisely that of the Cardinals’ last year (10th in MLB), and 11th in the bigs so far.

Best-case scenario: Delmon Young rakes when he comes back from arthroscopic ankle surgery in early-to-mid May, lining up Ruiz to be one of the strongest seven-hole hitters in baseball.

As for his ability to nab base-stealers: Ruiz’s pre-2012 three-year caught stealing rate (25.9%) isn’t that far off from Kratz’s this year (28.6%) and would rank about average in baseball in 2013.

Hopefully we’re past the whole, “Erik Kratz Can’t Call A Game!” thing, especially with the rotation having already come around of late. (And the numbers showing that, at times, the staff had a better ERA with Kratz than Ruiz last year.)

Still, there’s something to be said for comfort, and Ruiz is just that for the Phillies $64.5 million top three starters – however intangible that may be.

As for what can be measured: don’t assume Ruiz can’t get or doesn’t ask for an exemption to use amphetamines again, what may or may not have fueled his surge.

You'd understand why he may be denied; it would make for a bad look from the league office to give a repeat drug policy offender the green light afterward. But such exemptions are apparently kinda easy to come by.

Ruiz has already been asked about such things, and he’s kept mum. We’ll see April 28.

What we already know: we'll see a valuable player and fan favorite rejoin a team that needs him.

Matt Hammond is the Phillies Insider and Update Anchor for 97.3 ESPN in New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter here.

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

NEW ORLEANS — Nerlens Noel made another step toward his return from arthroscopic left knee surgery by joining the Sixers in New Orleans for their game against the Pelicans.

Noel arrived on Wednesday with Robert Covington, who is slated to start after missing the last three games with a left knee sprain. Noel is not cleared to play, but Brown doesn’t think it will be long until he suits up. 

“I don’t think far away,” Brown said of Noel’s regular season debut after shootaround.

When asked about the possibility of Noel playing this weekend when the Sixers face the Pistons on Sunday in Detroit, Brown replied, “Maybe.” 

Noel has missed the entire regular season recovering from elective surgery for an inflamed plica in October. He completed the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Ala. and has been continuing his work with the Sixers. This trip to New Orleans is the first time he has been with the Sixers on the road. 

“[He is] integrating with the team, studying a lot of tape, scripting with his teammates with the understanding that we have a chance to see him soon,” Brown said. “All that trying to ramp it up where he can go to an NBA court more comfortably.”

Noel spoke out about his displeasure with the Sixers crowded frontcourt at the start of the preseason. He recently stuck with his stance, saying, “I don’t think the roster’s changed.”

Brown is working to keep the team moving forward as a unit while still being aware of and recognizing Noel’s perspective. 

“It does,” Brown said when asked if Noel’s open frustration concerns him as it pertains to team cohesiveness. “But I feel like it’s so much a part of what we try do around here that it’s not like you’re going to blink and you’ve forgotten something that equals camaraderie, that equals team, that equals trying to keep this together, and you’ve left it for a week … 

“It’s a day-to-day focus for me and it’s a very candid conversation with me and the player. The team hears it, the individual hears it, we all understand it … We need to coexist and we need to understand the reality of it all, too. There’s a human side you understand. It’s also pride, it’s competitiveness, it’s do your job, it’s nothing is given, you’ve got to take stuff, draw your own line in the sand, competitors rule the day.”

Last season Noel averaged 11.1 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game. The Sixers will look forward to having him back on the court in that once-crowded frontcourt that is now shorthanded. Jahlil Okafor remained in Philadelphia with gastroenteritis. Ben Simmons still is rehabbing from a right foot fracture. 

"Soon you’re going to see Ben Simmons coming to a team bench where he doesn’t come out with boots and have to push him in some type of wheely apparatus," Brown said. "We’ve dealt with so many injuries trying to find that balance of dealing with their health and so on, and then trying to integrate them back into a team is part of growing a program."