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Phillies 2016 Player Preview: Darin Ruf

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He's going to play baseball on days Ryan Howard doesn't play or so we're told.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I think I like Darin Ruf a little bit more than I should.

It's not that I'm hung up on his 38-homer season at Double-A back in 2012, or his 2013 season in which, in 73 games (293 PAs) he hit 14 homers and batted .247/.348/.458 with a wRC+ of 125.

No, I'm past all that. I don't really believe he is an everyday player. Over the last two years, in 158 games, Ruf has hit .235/.303/.411 for a .713 OPS with 15 homers and 47 RBIs.

Throughout his Major League career (744 PAs), Ruf has hit .212/.281/.380 against right-handed pitching, with a wRC+ of 82. That's pretty bad. Against lefties, the right-hander has hit ..300/.390/.556 for a .946 OPS and a wRC+ of 158.

This is why, along with Ryan Howard's inability to hit left-handed pitching, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said earlier in the off-season that the two players would form a platoon at first base.

And that makes a whole lot of sense. Ruf can't run and is a below average, although not brutal, defender at first base, but he can fill the gaps that Howard cannot. Pairing the two together would seem to make a lot of sense, as Mackanin reiterated this spring (quotes courtesy of Ryan Lawrence's recent piece).

"Darin Ruf is a pretty good weapon against lefthanded pitchers," Mackanin said. "So as well as worrying about Howie, I'm worried about Darin Ruf, I'd like to get him in the lineup against lefties because he does such damage against them. So, you know, it works both ways. The plan is to come up with the best combination where Howard is going to get sufficient at-bats to have a good year and so is Ruf, and you combine the two, and if we have a super year out of first base, it's going to benefit the team."

But in a recent piece by The Daily News' David Murphy (What's the point in keeping Ryan Howard around?), Murph quoted Ruf as noting a potential reason why he's never been able to get any traction on hitting right-handers.

"When I was facing a righty it was a bullpen guy throwing 95, coming in cold off the bench," Ruf said.

Murphy noted a few interesting statistics that bear repeating:

  • Ruf started each of the last 17 games of the season, and posted a .338 OBP and .500 slugging percentage (five home runs, two doubles) with 16 strikeouts in 71 plate appearances.
  • In 166 starts in his career, Ruf has a batting line of .261/.342/.481 with 31 home runs and 181 strikeouts in 662 plate appearances.
  • In 269 plate appearances against relievers, Ruf has hit just .185/.242/.341 with nine home runs. But in 475 plate appearances against starters, he has a .281/.369/.509 line with 23 home runs and 116 strikeouts.

It makes sense in my brain that only facing right-handers when you're coming in cold off the bench, against a fresh arm that throws hard, is not the best way to establish your credentials against right-handed pitchers. So the basic question is, has Ruf been afforded enough of an opportunity against right-handed starting pitchers to say for sure he can't hit right-handed pitching?

It's more likely than not that Ruf is what he is, a good platoon player who will hit left-handers around. But isn't a rebuilding season all about finding the answers to questions like this? And while Ruf isn't "young" anymore (29 years old), we've seen less of him than Ryan Howard. Is it "unfair" to Ruf more than it is to Ryan to be in a platoon?

Again, Ruf is not some young star getting buried on the bench, and a platoon role is probably what is best for everyone. And, after all, if the Phils really thought he had a chance to be a good everyday player, you'd bet the Phillies would be willing to give him that opportunity.

It doesn't seem as if that's going to happen.

So, what to expect from Ruf this year? Likely somewhere in the neighborhood of 350-400 PAs, a .245/.310/.450 slash line (mostly against lefties) with 13-15 home runs.

He's not the star you're looking for.

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