Beginning today, we will examine the 2012 season of one Phillies player per day. First up is starting catcher Carlos Ruiz.
The Phillies’ 2012 season was filled with disappointment and unexpectedly poor production from key players. But despite a team-wide lack of consistency, Carlos Ruiz remained steady from April to September, hitting well no matter the situation or lineup context.
A foot injury limited Ruiz to just 114 games, but he hit .325/.394/.540 with 16 home runs and 68 RBI. Every one of those numbers was a career-high, as were his 56 runs scored, 32 doubles and 16 hit by pitches.
Many kept waiting for Ruiz to slow down and, while he did in the second half, he was still among the game’s most productive catchers. He hit .313 in April, .418 in May, .337 in June, .288 in July and .271 in September after missing most of August. His lowest monthly OPS was .808.
Most impressive was Ruiz’s production with runners in scoring position — he hit .368 with a .600 slugging percentage.
Among major-league catchers with at least 400 plate appearance, Ruiz was second in batting average and slugging percentage only to NL MVP front-runner Buster Posey. He was third in OBP, behind Posey and former batting champ Joe Mauer.
To top it all off, he was extremely valuable behind the plate. Phillies pitchers are always quick to praise Chooch after a strong start — whether it’s Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee — but he also provided defensive value when it came to stolen bases. Ruiz nailed 33 of 97 would-be base stealers for a caught stealing rate of 34 percent. Only four major-league catchers played as many innings as Chooch and had better success throwing out runners: Matt Wieters, Miguel Montero, Yadier Molina and Ryan Hanigan.
For years, I personally always thought Ruiz’s balance at the plate and batting stance made it look like he was going to launch any ball he connected with. In 2012, so many of those swings actually connected, leading to plenty of doubles in the left-centerfield gap or homers to a similar location.
Ruiz’s progression into a dominant offensive player has been one of the more positive, heartwarming developments of the last few Phillies seasons. This is a guy who went from undrafted international free agent infielder, to organizational catcher, to backup backstop, to solid defensive starting catcher, to big-time playoff performer, to well above-average offensive catcher.
Ruiz, who has a $5 million team option for 2013 that Ruben Amaro Jr. has already said the Phillies will pick up, was once just another catcher. I remember four years ago — when Ruiz was dwindling in the .240-.250 range after hitting .219 in 2008 — having a conversation with Eric about how Ruiz hadn’t grabbed the job by the throat. That Chris Coste was capable of providing just as much offense. That the Phillies needed to seriously look for external catching help. That all seems absurd these days.
Now, Chooch has cemented a legacy as one of the most storied players in franchise history, the type of guy fans will give a massive ovation to every time he makes an appearance at Citizens Bank Park for alumni day when his playing days are over. He might be the most likable player of this era of Phillies baseball.
He was certainly their best offensive performer in 2012.
GRADE: A+ … he was the best Phillie offensively and had a great year behind the plate. How could you go with any other grade?