With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley beginning the season on the disabled list, players such as Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and even Hunter Pence were expected to carry the burden of the Philadelphia Phillies’ offense.
However, through 52 games, Carlos Ruiz has exceeded expectations in the absence of key players.
In 45 games this season, Ruiz has an incredible .371 batting average to go with eight home runs and 31 RBIs. In 143 at-bats, Ruiz has struck out just 15 times.
Among Phillies regulars, Ruiz is either leading the team or tied for the lead in hits, RBI, batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS.
Chooch has also recently provided the Phils with an option for the cleanup spot. In 17 at-bats from the four spot, Ruiz is batting .529 with just one strikeout.
For as many contributions as Ruiz has made to the Phillies’ offense so far, the team must also be aware of the fact that it is currently being led by a player who is a career .273 batter, and one who has predominantly been an eight spot hitter throughout his career.
Which brings up the question, can the Phillies’ offense survive if Ruiz’s blazing starts cools off and returns to the types of performances reminiscent of recent seasons?
The Phillies’ offense took major strides in May following an opening month of the regular season that saw the team’s run production and RBI total rank in the lower half of the National League.
A major reason for such offensive improvements could be the surge that Ruiz had from April to May.
After batting .313 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in April, Ruiz’s bat got even hotter in May, as he batted .418 with five home runs, 21 RBIs and an OBP that was more than twice as high as the one he posted in the previous month.
Ruiz not only leads in batting average among National League catchers with at least 100 plate appearances, but his .371 mark puts him in the top-5 in the major leagues among players, regardless of position, with at least 100 at-bats.
He’s also created a great deal of separation in terms of batting average between himself and the NL catcher with the second-highest average, Jonathan Lucroy of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Ruiz ranks either first or second in nearly every major offensive category among NL catchers.
According to fangraphs.com, Ruiz’s 2.6 WAR value is currently the highest among major league catchers with at least 100 plate appearances.
But it’s where his offense currently ranks for the Phillies that has seemingly kept the team afloat after a slow start to the season.
Among Phillies players who have played in at least 40 games this season, only Juan Pierre currently has a batting average over .300. Pierre has also only started in 33 games.
After Ruiz and Pierre, the next-highest average belongs to Placido Polanco, who is batting .275, with a .208 mark against left-handers.
More importantly, Ruiz is batting .342 with runners in scoring position, and has driven in 23 runs. Only Shane Victorino has driven in more than 15 runs while batting over .300 with runners in scoring position.
Without Ruiz’s 31 RBIs on the season, the Phils’ RBI total as a team would take them from their current ranking of fifth in the NL down to 13th.
Furthermore, Ruiz’s surge at the cleanup spot has allowed Pence to move into the three spot in the lineup. Since the move, Pence has seen his average increase from .254 to .262 in a seven-game span.
With Howard and Utley out, the Phils have had to rely on players such as Ruiz, Rollins, Victorino, Pence and John Mayberry, Jr., as returning players who were expected to dictate the level of success of the team’s offense.
So far, Ruiz seems to have easily passed the test.
|2011 AVG.||Current AVG.|
|John Mayberry, Jr.||.273||.244|
Although these players have time to improve their averages, their early drop-offs have not helped the Phils climb out of the bottom of the NL East.
The Phillies’ lineup has begun heating up recently, but the improved numbers must continue for the team to reach the top of the NL East and separate themselves within the National League.
The Phils have players capable of keeping the team competitive until reinforcements in the form of Howard and Utley return, but no player has stepped up their performances in the meantime quite like Ruiz.
Ruiz’s blazing start could cool off and his offense could still be considered one of the best in the major leagues to start the season. However, a drastic decrease in production could put the Phillies further back in the National League, with less time to rebound.