We all know there are holes in Darin Ruf's game.
We all know that Ruf strikes out a lot. Among players with at least 250 PAs last year, his 31.1% K-rate was worst on the team. He also hit just .212/.328/.327 with 3 HRs during his last 125 PAs, with 39 Ks during that time. Pitchers were less willing to give him fastballs to hit and instead lived on the outside part of the plate with breaking stuff. Ruf struggled to adjust, at times with some embarrassing results.
Eesh. That wasn't pretty.
Ruf also isn't a very good defensive outfielder. Whether you trust defensive metrics or not, an objective eye coupled with those metrics will tell you that glaciers move faster in the outfield than Ruf.
We all know this. Ruf is not an All-Star, and probably isn't an every day Major Leaguer.
But here's one thing Ruf does have that, frankly, almost no one else on the 40-man roster actually does have.
Ruf has power. Significant power. And despite his high strikeout rate, he gets on base and knows how to draw a walk.
His overall stat line last year of .247/.348/.458, good for an OPS of .806, was pretty decent, albeit in a very small sample size. His 14 HRs were third on the team. In 293 plate appearances, he tied Chase Utley for the team lead in on-base percentage at .348, and he walked in 11.3% of his PAs last year. That led the team.
Still, after the season, the Phillies went out and signed Marlon Byrd. This was understandable. Byrd was coming off a career year and can at the very least provide much better defense in right field than Ruf. But the criticism that came from the front office last September concerning Ruf, by the GM in particular, was kind of surprising in its bluntness.
"Ruf is not a right fielder," Ruben Amaro told CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury. "I think he can fill in for us. I think he can fill in in certain areas, but I can’t sit here and tell you that he’s an everyday player for us. He’s going to have to fight for a job in some way, shape or form. Can he add some depth to our bench, to our club overall? Can he play a little left, can he play a little right, can he play a little first and give [Ryan] Howard a blow? He can become valuable in that regard. But I don’t know he’s an everyday player yet. It’s hard to say that he’s an everyday player in the outfield. I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice, because we just need to be better in the outfield defensively."
On Thursday, the Phillies sent Ruf out to talk to reporters, and the country-strong slugger said he just wants a role on the '14 Phils (per MLB.com's Todd Zolecki), whatever that may be.
"I don't care how I fit in, as long as I fit in," Ruf said Thursday. "Whether you're penciled in to be a starter that day, if your role is to have a good at-bat late in the game, it's just important to do everything you can to be a part of that. That's what I'm doing right now.
"I hadn't played right field until last year. I think it was a pretty honest statement [from Amaro]. I was a kind of a temporary solution last year in right field, but it was a good experience for me because I got to learn how to play that position."
Listen, Amaro probably isn't wrong. And Ruf's critics have a lot of areas in which to poke holes. But has Ruf really been given enough time to prove that he can adjust to Major League pitching? Why does everyone just assume he can't learn to swing at breaking pitches out of the zone less frequently? Won't he be able to recognize them better the more he sees them? And aren't 330 career Major League plate appearances far too few to make a definitive statement about his future in the big leagues?
I seem to remember the entire free world mentioning over and over and over again how Domonic Brown's 543 career PAs through parts of three seasons weren't a large enough a sample size to properly judge his abilities. This was a correct statement. And let's not forget, Brown wasn't exactly a stellar defensive outfielder going into 2013 either, so the argument that Brown offered more with the glove doesn't hold water here.
So why does that same argument not hold true for Ruf?
I'm not saying that Ruf should be the team's starting right fielder. I'm not saying he's as good as Brown or Byrd, or has the same kind of potential as Brown or Byrd.
I AM saying that Ruf should absolutely be on this roster next year and NOT playing in Lehigh Valley. I am saying there are enough positives in his game that can allow one to think he can be Mark Trumbo-light, coming off the bench, and getting 300-400 PAs while filling in for Brown, Byrd and Ryan Howard. And, as the Philadelphia Daily News' David Murphy noted yesterday, an injury to Brown or Byrd could all of a sudden thrust Ruf into a more prominent role.
I'm not convinced Ruf will never learn how to hit breaking pitches. Sorry, I'm just not.
I know this is not a true measure of what he would have done last year and there are flaws with this sort of thing, but Ruf's numbers, extrapolated over 650 PAs, would have resulted in 31 homers for him last season. Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez and Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt each had 36. Cincinnati's Jay Bruce was third with 30.
Forgive me, but I'm not ready to give up on Darin Ruf yet. I understand that, to this point, his defense has been really bad, spinning balls have confused him, and he has struck out a lot. I also understand that, to this point, he's showed good power potential, he can draw a walk, and is a way better bench candidate than John Mayberry Jr.
No one is calling Ruf a savior. No one is calling him the team's next great home run hitter. And I understand there are people who don't think he's ever going to be a quality Major League player. And that's fine. You're entitled, and a lot of the advanced metrics, after just 330 career PAs, indicate you aren't wrong.
What I am calling for is for Ruf to get more than half a season's worth of plate appearances before we officially declare him a AAAA hitter and ship him off to Japan.
After all, most of us extended Dom Brown that courtesy.