MLB Countdown Till Pitchers and Catchers Report: Five days.
The man that Philadelphia Phillies fans love to call “Chooch” has just turned 32, and has never been voted onto an all-star team or honored with a Gold Glove award.
But take a look around the league, and around all of Major League baseball. Are there as many as five other catchers who you would rather have behind the plate, and hitting out of the No. 8 hole for this team—a team whose expectations are so impossibly high?
The answer to that is debatable, but clearly, the diminutive Panamian backstop has become one of the most highly respected players on the team. So, would you entrust the fortunes of our once-in-a-generation starting pitching rotation to anyone else?
Despite his lack of Gold Gloves (Ruiz has been the Phils’ everyday catcher the last four years, and the Cardinals’ superb Yadier Molina has won the last three), by any measure Chooch does an exceptional job behind the dish.
Ruiz commits very few errors, does a great job blocking balls in the dirt, sacrifices his body to block the plate and when given a reasonable chance to throw out runners, he cuts them down with his precise laser arm. The pitching staff raves about how he calls a game, and Chooch has become more confident and assertive with them each year.
One other thing: The next time he either complains or toots his own horn publicly, will be the very first.
Who is the best Phillies catcher of the last 50 years?
All of these qualities have made Carlos Ruiz a greatly valued player—in the clubhouse and in the stands of Citizens Bank Park—even if national recognition has been slow in coming.
Known more for his stellar defense, Ruiz compiled (by far) his best offensive season in 2010. One can easily make a case that he was the most consistent hitter on the team last year.
Chooch put together a wonderful slash line of .302/.400/.447, with a terrific OPS of .847. Still not impressed? Ruiz was the only Phils regular with a batting average over .300 or an OBP over .400 (he did both). It is tempting to say that he should be the Phillies’ leadoff hitter, but that would be just a tad unconventional. He has decent speed for a catcher, but…
Why would you even want to displace him from the No. 8 hole when he walked 55 times against only 54 strikeouts, and also found a way to knock in 53 runs? There simply aren’t that many batters—at any position—who rack up more BBs than Ks, and Ruiz does a superb job of turning the lineup over.
Are you ready for another interesting Chooch-related factoid?
If you look at last year’s starting lineup, Ruiz was the only position player to never make an all-star team. Going around the diamond, Ryan Howard (three times), Chase Utley (five), Jimmy Rollins (three) and Placido Polanco (one) made for a highly decorated infield.
All three starting outfielders—Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth—suited up in the 2009 All-Star Game.
If the lack of personal honors has ever bothered Ruiz, you would never know if from the way he goes about this business. In fact, he is all business, with a knack for making the great defensive play or getting the key hit at the right time.
It would be an exaggeration to note that the Phillies ended their dubious 13-year run of not qualifying for the playoffs in 2007, when Ruiz started wearing the tools of ignorance every day. As you well know, the Fightins have won the NL East the last four years, and Ruiz has been just one reason why. At the same time, the impact of having such a reliable catcher should not be ignored.
Once in the postseason, Ruiz gets the job done behind the plate and offensively—with a career postseason line of .280/.412/.456.
It remains to be seen whether Ruiz can match last year’s offensive numbers, and if so, whether he will be rewarded with an All-Star appearance when the competition includes guys like Molina, the Braves’ perennial honoree Brian McCann and reigning Rookie of the Year Buster Posey of the Giants.
Phillies fans would love to have the opportunity to scream “Chooooooooooch” during the midsummer classic, but perhaps it’s Ruiz’s fate to be one of those terrific players who never gets to taste that kind of personal glory.
As long as Chooch gets to kneel down for about 120 grueling regular season games and 12 postseason victories, all of Phillies Nation will be delighted.
One gets the impression that the popular, ultra-reliable and unselfish catcher will be even more delighted to do his part to bring home another championship.
It is interesting to speculate as to where Carlos Ruiz would rank among Phillies catchers of the last 50 years. In any debate of this ilk, there is no single stat that crunches all of the numbers and all of the intangibles, but for now he would probably rank fourth behind:
Bob Boone (who caught over 100 games seven times as a Phillie, made three All-Star games and won two Gold Gloves).
Darren Daulton (four seasons over 100 games, three All-Star games, a Silver Slugger and an RBI crown).
Mike Lieberthal (seven seasons over 100 games, two All-Star games, a Gold Glove and two seasons over .300).
Chooch has caught over 100 games the last four seasons and is the only player of the four to ever have an OBP of .400.
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