He'll be back. Don't worry. - Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE
Carlos Ruiz's suspension was a punch in the gut for all Phillies fans. But now that you've absorbed the news, it's time to get off that ledge.
Until yesterday, Chooch was one of the only positive things about the 2012 Phillies season. Hell, go a step further - he might have been one of the only positive things about the 2012 sports season for all of Philadelphia.
But that's no longer. His 2012 will forever be tarnished by his knowing violation of MLB's rules. We are once again reminded that there are no heroes in sports. There are only grown men using athletic skills in return for so much money that there are incentives for them to do almost anything to excel.
Even though we feel like we get to know the players, when it comes down to it, we watch them for only a tiny sliver of their time spent as human beings. In the vast majority of the hours of their lives that are not televised, well, who knows what they do? Any leap that we make that the players are reputable human beings based on how we see them play or how they make us feel by what they do on the field is just blind hope. Sometimes blind hope is rewarded, sometimes it remains forever blind, and sometimes it is dashed against the rocks in cruel ways.
Yesterday, unfortunately, showed that our assessment of Carlos Ruiz fell into the last category. But let's remember that as much as we loved Chooch, any way in which our love for him went beyond appreciating his production on the field was just blind hope that he was a good guy who played by all the rules. He didn't, and we were wrong.
Other than reinforcing Charles Barkley's superb analysis of the role of athletes in society then, does Ruiz's suspension really matter to the Phillies? Already there are analysts saying the Phillies can no longer trade from their minor league depth in the catching position. Others are talking about the Phillies possibly needing to make some move to fill in for Ruiz in his absence behind the plate. Or even this suspension meaning the Phillies need to do that much more to find a right-handed bat to help in the lineup.
I'm here to talk us all down from the ledge because, when it comes down to it, Carlos Ruiz being suspended for 25 games is not that big of a deal. There are two reasons: first, no one should have expected a 33 year old catcher who posted career numbers to repeat at age 34; and second, Ruiz can always be counted on for missing much more than 25 games over the course of a season.
On the first point, Ruiz's 2012 was an obvious career outlier. In the three years prior to 2012, Ruiz had established himself as an above-average offensive catcher. His OPS+ in those three years was 105, 127, and 108. Very strong numbers, but nothing at all like the 149 he posted this past season. Same with fWAR. He had 2.6, 4.4, and 3.2 seasons leading up to this year, and then suddenly he posted a 5.5 season.
Maybe these numbers alone should have made us suspicious about what was going on with Ruiz, but even if we weren't suspicious, we had to be realistic and predict that another season like 2012 was very unlikely in 2013. And that has nothing to do with yesterday's revelation. We should have been thinking this way all along.
Let's say you agree, but you're still concerned that we need his above-average production in 2013, even if it's not superstar production. After all, the Phillies must field all 9 positions, and for 25 games they can't put Ruiz at catcher. Here's where the second point comes in -- Ruiz always misses more than 25 games in a season.
Missing 25 games in a season would put a player at 137 games played. Here are Ruiz's games-played since he made it to the big leagues full-time: 115, 117, 107, 121, 132, 114. He consistently misses the 137 mark, and usually by a lot. And this isn't just because he's given a day off here and there as a catcher. That was true for the first two years, but in each of the last four years, he's been on the DL, missing large chunks of consecutive games.
The Phillies are used to playing without Ruiz. In 2013, that will happen at the start of the season. In other seasons, it's been at other times. But we should be used to this with Chooch.
All this means that nothing should change. The Phillies front office should go about what it was going to do the same way today as it was planning on doing yesterday before this news broke - with free agency, with minor league development, and with trades. Likewise, we as fans should get down from the ledge and also think the same way about 2013 as we were thinking about the season yesterday.
Unfortunately, I can't say the same for how we think of our once-beloved Chooch, but as sports fans, we really should be used to this by now, shouldn't we?