Nearly one year ago today, the Phillies had an unexpectedly strong performance from one of their aging, non-star players. Shane Victorino, mostly known for .gif related hilarity, was sitting near the top of the NL with 4.4 fWAR in only 68 games.
Now, in Victorino's stead, another member of the Phillies' championship core has stormed his way to the forefront. Carlos Ruiz, considered by those around baseball to be a good, not great catcher, is currently third in the NL in both rWAR and fWAR. While his team as a whole has struggled to do much of anything, Ruiz has gone and hit a career high number of home runs, lead the league in BA for much of the season, and stole three bases without getting caught. To put it simply, Carlos Ruiz has been utterly amazing in all aspects of the game.
Now, is all this just an aberration? Is Ruiz, a 33 year old catcher, who barely managed to stay in the league until a hot 2008 postseason stretch placed him in the hearts of many, really capable of keeping up this level of performance?
To be honest, there's almost no way he can keep up quite this level of performance. He's been getting by with an inflated BABIP (.367, well above his previous high of .335) and an incredibly out of line HR/FB% (19.4% - his career average is 7.5%). Those trends are unlikely to continue, at least to the extent that they have so far this season.
However, that does not mean that what Ruiz has done should be dismissed as a fluke. Ruiz has long been one of the best catchers in baseball, even if he was never viewed as such. In the past two seasons, Ruiz was 4th in fWAR, and that's not adjusting for the fact that he had a reduced number of PAs (and thus WAR) due to hitting 8th during that period. Additionally, with his many injuries and off-days, he only played 253 of the 324 games over these past couple seasons. His 162-game pace was 4.9 fWAR. The guy was no slouch.
Even if he is to regress back towards his still very good career average level, Ruiz's 2012 will go down as a historically great season for a catcher. To demonstrate how truly impressive his season has been so far, I present this list of the top 10 offensive seasons by catchers since 1891 (ranked by wRC+).
|1997||Mike Piazza||Dodgers||152||633||201||40||104||124||5||10.9 %||12.2 %||.277||.363||.362||.431||.638||.454||183||-2.0||9.4|
|2011||Mike Napoli||Rangers||113||432||118||30||72||75||4||13.4 %||19.7 %||.312||.344||.320||.414||.631||.444||178||0.1||-2.3||5.7|
|1943||Bill Dickey||Yankees||85||284||85||4||29||33||2||14.4 %||4.2 %||.140||.358||.351||.445||.492||.444||176||2.0||4.1|
|2012||Carlos Ruiz||Phillies||73||268||84||12||39||44||3||6.0 %||11.9 %||.232||.367||.354||.418||.586||.426||171||2.0||-0.3||4.1|
|2009||Joe Mauer||Twins||138||606||191||28||94||96||4||12.5 %||10.4 %||.222||.373||.365||.444||.587||.438||170||-0.4||-1.5||7.9|
|2003||Javy Lopez||Braves||129||495||150||43||89||109||0||6.7 %||18.2 %||.359||.329||.328||.378||.687||.440||169||1.0||-0.7||7.0|
|1995||Mike Piazza||Dodgers||112||475||150||32||82||93||1||8.2 %||16.8 %||.260||.365||.346||.400||.606||.427||168||-2.0||6.0|
|1993||Chris Hoiles||Orioles||122||503||130||29||80||82||1||13.7 %||18.7 %||.274||.338||.310||.416||.585||.433||167||6.0||7.3|
|1972||Carlton Fisk||Red Sox||131||514||134||22||74||61||5||10.1 %||16.1 %||.245||.318||.293||.370||.538||.408||166||1.0||7.1|
|1996||Mike Piazza||Dodgers||148||631||184||36||87||105||0||12.8 %||14.7 %||.227||.352||.336||.422||.563||.413||163||-8.0||6.6|
Yes, Carlos Ruiz would currently rank 4th all time, behind a similarly short season by Bill Dickey, Mike Napoli's Angel fan infuriating 2011, and Mike Piazza's best season. Not bad for a guy who also leads the league in runners caught stealing (he's 2nd in CS%). And all this at age 33.
Actually, let's examine this a little deeper. Among those older than 30, Ruiz's 2012 would rank behind only Dickey's 1943 season, with only Javy Lopez's 2003 being the only other season that was even close. And even if Ruiz regresses back to his 2010-2011 levels for the rest of the season, his fWAR of 6.6 (4.1 currently + 2.5 for a half season of 2010-2011) would place him in the top-40 all time among those 30 or older.
Being a little more selective and limiting it to only those 33 or older, that same 6.6 fWAR would place him 3rd all time, only 0.5 behind Elston Howard's 1964 (and 0.4 behind Elston Howard's 1963, oddly enough). If Ruiz produces even just slightly above his 2010-2011 pace, he would end up with the best season ever by a catcher at least 33 years old.
So the next time you get down thinking about the disaster that has been the Phillies 2012, just make sure to appreciate the historical greatness of Carlos Ruiz.