Carlos Ruiz is a folk hero in Philadelphia. He emerged as a 2008 postseason hero, and part of what is possibly the most iconic Philadelphia sports image of all time. In 2010 he caught Roy Halladay's perfect game AND his postseason no-hitter. He fills the nightmares of Jonathan Broxton. Yes, Carlos Ruiz is exactly the type of underdog salt-of-the-earth athlete that Philly fans are made to love. And his name is so wonderfully shoutable. Choooooooooooooooch. I do it every time he comes to bat no matter where I am.
Chooch has been a fan favorite for awhile, but his overall performance in 2010 made everybody take notice. He caught two no-hitters and batted .302/.400/.447. The superhuman pace that Chooch set in 2010 wasn't sustainable, and his numbers came down in 2011 (.283/.371/.383). Though I'll admit, they didn't take the nosedive I was expecting. The first half of the season saw his average soar early on, and then hover in the low to mid 200s until July. Starting July 1 his average climbed steadily, from .242 on that date to .283 by the end of the season.
With last season's emphasis on the pitching rotation, Chooch was in the spotlight as well. He was the catcher for four outstanding staring pitchers, plus Kyle Kendrick. The article about him in Sports Illustrated showed how he handled working with them, and how he had to adjust his approach with each pitcher. Everyone marvels at Roy Halladay's dedication and approach, but having to handle the insanely diverse styles of Halladay, Lee, and Hamels requires just as much preparation. Chooch and Roy Halladay are a fantastic duo -- they clearly have something special going on, and no I'm not going to call it a bromance, because they're not frat boys doing kegstands.
Chooch's bat has been a pleasant surprise the past several years, and combined with his skill behind the plate, he's become indispensable. He played in 132 games in 2011, more than he ever has. He was on the disabled list just once, and got a day off whenever Vance Worley pitched (Brian Schneider was Worley's personal catcher).
I've always thought that anything that Chooch can provide at the plate is just extra. He's great with the pitchers, and his confidence has continued to grow. While I don't think another 2010 is likely, I'd be happy with another 2011 -- even if his stats end up a bit lower. I'm kind of ashamed of myself that I didn't notice until now what Chooch was doing over the second half of the season. He pulled up his average and was consistent. He doesn't have a ton of power, but he's good for between 5 and 10 homers a year.
It's hard to imagine this team without Chooch -- this season, or in the near future. 2012 is the last year of his three year, $8.85m contract. He does have a $5m club option for 2013 which I imagine will be exercised (a huuuge disappointment for members of the Erik Kratz fan club, I know). So since I don't have to imagine a Chooch-less Phillies, I'll imagine Chooch singing "Octopus's Garden", which always brings a smile to my face.