Monday, June 8, 2009

Carlos Ruiz is a Hitting Machine. You're Welcome

Carlos Ruiz was named the player of the game in last night's 7-2 win over the Dodgers, after going 2-for-3 with a home run that effectively put the game away. Ruiz's batting average is now up to .309 - not bad for a career .250 hitter. Even more impressive is his OPS of .945, which currently ranks third-best on the team, ahead of Ryan Howard (.915). Granted, Ruiz has played in just 32 games this season, due to a trip to the 15-day DL and to receiving the typical days off given to catchers, but still, the numbers are very impressive.

The numbers particularly stand out when they are compared to his early-season performance. After the Phillies beat the Reds on May 21st, Ruiz's stats were as follows: .236 BA, .373 OBP, and a .327 SLG, combining for a .700 OPS.

But then Ruiz made a trip to the new Yankee Stadium and everything changed. In that game, Ruiz went 3-for-4 with a home run and 2 RBI and led the Phillies to a 7-3 win. The Phillies would lose the second game of the series, as Ruiz sat in favor of Chris Coste, but then in the rubber match, Ruiz went 3-for-4 again and the Phillies won 4-3.

And that wasn't all. Ruiz has been on a tear since then. Here are his numbers from that May 22nd game onward: .410 BA, .521 OBP, .769 SLG. Pretty ridiculous, especially considering Ruiz bats 8th in the lineup, so teams don't even have a good reason to throw him strikes. What's more, his offensive surge is paying dividends for the Phillies. From that first win over the Yankees through last night, the Phillies are 9-2 with Ruiz starting and 1-2 with Coste starting.

One of the two losses with Ruiz in the starting lineup, the Phillies 12-inning loss to the Dodgers on Saturday, featured Charlie Manuel pulling Ruiz for a pinch hitter (Greg Dobbs) in the 7th inning, with the Phillies trailing 1-0. This would have been a good move last year, when Dobbs was tearing it up as a pinch hitter and Ruiz was hitting in the low .200's, but Ruiz has looked better than Dobbs this season.

This was also an exceptionally poor decision because Ruiz was up with runners on second and third and one out, so a good solid piece of hitting would probably have tied the game. Ruiz would have most likely put the ball in play or drawn a walk, being a far more disciplined hitter than Dobbs. Consider that Ruiz has walked 110 times, with only 106 strikeouts in his career (19 BB, 11 K this year), while Dobbs has walked 56 times with 159 strikeouts. Lo and behold, Dobbs popped out on the second pitch of the at-bat. Of course, the next batter, Matt Stairs, delivered with two outs, ripping a double that put the Phillies ahead 2-1. The Phillies eventually lost in extra innings after Brad Lidge blew the save and Chad Durbin let in a run in the 12th.

Since the Phillies took the lead anyway, it's debatable whether or not keeping Ruiz in the game would've made a difference, but there would've been a better chance of tying the game in the first place and then perhaps building on the lead, with Stairs coming to the plate in a tie game, or maybe with the bases loaded (had Ruiz walked). But it's also worth noting that this move used up a pinch hitter needlessly; Dobbs could have been saved for later (perhaps the top of the 12th, when Durbin was forced to bat), the Phillies defense and game-calling would have been better with Ruiz, AND Ruiz would have had the two at-bats in which Coste went 0-for-2 (well technically not because Coste was batting 9th due to a double switch, but you get the idea). So, yes, pulling Ruiz might well have cost the Phillies a game.

Okay, that was an exceptionally long tangent on one game, I admit. But it further hammers home the point that Ruiz has been brilliant and yet has received no recognition for it, even from his own manager. Anyway, back to the original point.

Why, you might ask, has Ruiz transformed into a brilliant hitter? Could it be that Ruiz just loves facing the American League? He was brilliant against Tampa Bay in the 2008 World Series, going .375/.500/.688. So maybe the return to an AL ballpark sparked this.

We, here at The People's Phillies Blog, have a far more enticing theory. We did it. That's right. We are responsible for Carlos Ruiz's hitting prowess.

Let me explain. On May 22nd, for the first time this year, two of the founding members of the blog, Jeff and I, attended the Phillies-Yankees game. And wouldn't you know it, Ruiz homers and starts off his incredible streak. (This is not unprecedented. A similar phenomenon occurred last year when we attended the June 3rd Phillies-Reds game. Ruiz got hot in the next 5 games he started, going 6-for-18 with a home run and 5 RBI and the Phillies won 4 of them...and yes, I cherry-picked the hell out of that.)

So now here's the real question. Since we clearly have a profound impact on how Ruiz swings the bat, do we dare make an appearance at this week's Phillies-Mets series? (In case this isn't clear to readers by this point, we are operating out of New York.) Will this ruin his hot streak, or will it propel him further to an MVP-level?

Perhaps our readers can decide. Let us know what kind of impact you think we will have on Ruiz, or any other player (for example, Russell Branyan's career took off not long after we appeared at CBP as Branyan's Companions, and then of course the Phillies won the World Series in the first year of this blog's existence). We are looking out for the best interests of the team and will act accordingly. Just know that powerful forces are at work.

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