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.

DeSean Jackson talks possible Eagles reunion, says Wentz 'killed it' as rookie

DeSean Jackson talks possible Eagles reunion, says Wentz 'killed it' as rookie

The connection hasn't been hard to make. And it's been made plenty of times over the last couple months. 

DeSean Jackson will become a free agent on March 9 and the Eagles are in desperate need of help at receiver, specifically someone who can stretch the field — just like their former second-round pick. 

So a reunion just makes too much sense. And it was a topic of conversation when Jackson joined Adam Schefter's ESPN podcast recently. 

"It definitely is a great story, I guess you could say," Jackson said. "Starting your career somewhere and obviously going to a division rival team and having the possibility of maybe going back. I mean you kind of just think about all of that, where you started from and maybe where you want to finish it. It’s just a lot of speculation of a lot of thoughts. It almost sounds good but you never really know until the final decision is made. 

"But I’m just a firm believer of you work hard, you put in the work, and continuously go out there and show everybody what you’re capable of doing. I think the sky is the limit for me. My agent, Joel Segal, he's in a great position. I’m in a great position. Really, I’m just going to let him be the expertise guy. He’s the one with all the experience. He’s been doing this for plenty of years. With the conversations we’ve been having, it’s great on our end. The best thing we need to do is stay under the radar, me continuously working out, and from there we’ll just sit back and see what teams are putting out there."

Jackson, 30, is probably in line for a big payday. And really, there's a pretty good chance he'll just end up going to whichever team offers him the biggest and best contract. But aside from money, Jackson, who is entering his 10th year in the NFL, said he wants to play for a team that gives him a chance to win. A big part of that is playing with a great quarterback. 

While he said Kirk Cousins is a great quarterback, having another one to catch passes from is important to Jackson. 

"I want to win," Jackson said. "Obviously, I haven't won a Super Bowl, so the team that can win, a team that has a great quarterback. And that's definitely what stands out to me."

Carson Wentz might not be a great quarterback yet, but he did have some impressive moments during his rookie season in 2016. And Jackson was watching. While Jackson first praised all the quarterbacks in the NFL, he then answered a specific question about Wentz. 

"Carson Wentz, he came in and had a heck of a year as a rookie," Jackson said. "I mean, I don’t think a lot of people saw that coming. You know, they had Sam Bradford who was there, who ended up getting traded to Minnesota, so he didn’t have no choice but to step up and be that guy. But that was a gutsy call for the organization to really believe in a young guy like that, just came out of college and give him that shot. I think he killed it. He was lights out, had heck of a year. He definitely showed me he can do it and he has all the intangibles of being a big-time quarterback in this league."

If Jackson does return to Philly, the question would be: Can Wentz reach his full potential while Jackson is still a dynamic player? 

Jackson, who turned 30 in December, said he still wants to play four, five or even six more years in the league. He thinks he can be a dynamic outside deep threat for three or four of those. 

Has he seen any drop-off in his speed? 

"Not at all," Jackson said. "I really feel like I could still (run in the) low 4.3s or 4.29 (in the 40-yard dash) like I did when I came out the combine." 

If Jackson's speed ever does diminish, he said he could play in the slot. He pointed to the end of Santana Moss' career as an example. While Jackson's planning ahead in case his speed vanishes, he is hoping it never does. 

If the reunion happens, the Eagles will be right there with him. 

Best of NHL: Trocheck's last-second goal lifts Panthers past Blues

Best of NHL: Trocheck's last-second goal lifts Panthers past Blues

ST. LOUIS -- Vincent Trocheck scored with just under 5 seconds remaining to lift the Florida Panthers to a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Monday night.

Jonathan Marchessault also scored and James Reimer stopped 26 shots to help the Panthers complete a 5-0 road trip -- their first perfect trip of at least that many games in franchise history.

Reimer has won five straight decisions and has not lost in regulation since Jan. 7 against Boston, going 6-0-1 since.

The Panthers moved into a tie with Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division, but have the edge because they have a game in hand on the Bruins.

Kyle Brodziak, playing for the second time after missing 10 games due to a broken foot, scored for the Blues and Jake Allen finished with 31 saves. St. Louis lost its second straight since winning six in a row (see full recap).

Coyotes use three-goal 1st period to beat Ducks
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Radim Vrbata capped Arizona's three-goal first period and the Coyotes held on for 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.

Christian Dvorak and Jakob Chychrun also scored for Arizona, and starting goalie Mike Smith had 27 saves before leaving about 4 1/2 minutes into the third period after a collision in the net. Marek Langhamer helped kill a power play after being pressed into action for his NHL debut and stopped six of the seven shots he faced.

The Coyotes have won four of their last six.

Langhamer gave up Ryan Getzlaf's second goal of the night with 26.8 seconds to play, but thwarted two quality shots in the final seconds.

Jonathan Bernier gave up three goals on six shots in the first period for the Ducks. John Gibson came on to start the second and stopped all 14 shots he faced (see full recap).