Carlos Ruiz has been a monster at the plate this season, posting a 309/435/511 line. Among the 18 NL players who have gotten at least 100 plate appearances as a catcher his .945 OPS at the position is best in the league.
Thanks mostly to Ruiz, the Phillies have been much better offensively at the position in 2009 than they were in 2008.
Whether it lasts or not the whole line is just impressive, especially considering that with the exception of an early contribution from Marson it’s mostly been the same guys in ’09 that played in ’08. The .387 on-base percentage for the position is particularly impressive.
The thing that’s not impressive is that while the Phillies have generally had their catcher hitting in the same spot in the order in both 2008 and 2009, their catchers are scoring less runs this year than they did last.
The guys playing catcher last year were terrible with the bat. This year they’ve been great, but they score a lot less often.
Ruiz has scored eight runs on the season and gotten 116 plate appearances. He has three home runs, so that leaves five times on the season he’s been driven in by some other player. He’s on-basing .435. In 2008 he got 373 plate appearances and scored 47 runs — if he continues to score runs at his current rate this year and again gets 373 plate appearances he will score about 26 runs. In 2008 he on-based .320.
Given how often the catchers hit eighth your first instinct may be to blame the pitchers. But while the pitchers sure aren’t good, they are at least as good with the bats as they were last year:
The .110 batting average won’t inspire much sonnet-writing, but the .219 on-base percentage is the best mark for NL-pitchers with the bat.
While there is surely more than one reason the catchers aren’t scoring regularly, a big part of the problem seems like it has to be Jimmy Rollins and the top of the order. Even if the pitcher’s slot doesn’t make an out, there’s a pretty good chance the top of the order will. Here’s what the guys batting leadoff for the Phils have done:
When you think of the struggles Rollins has had at the plate this season you probably think first of the problems it causes starting rallies. And that’s a big problem. But as long as Ruiz continues to put up huge numbers in the eight hole the Phillies are going to need someone at the top of the lineup who can finish them off as well.
The question for the Phillies is how long the situation will continue or if it will continue at all. The combination of Ruiz being great with the bat and Rollins struggling has hurt them so far this season. We saw them in LA try to deal with the struggles that Rollins is having in different ways. But whether Rollins works out his problems in the short term or not, the chances that Ruiz will continue to OPS .945 and Rollins will continue to on-base .261 in the leadoff spot are close to zero.
Update: The Phillies sent Brad Lidge to the DL with a strained right knee and called up Paul Bako. Bako has hit 357/372/381 in 42 at-bats at Reading with one extra-base hit, a double. He bats left-handed and turns 37 later this month. Career line of 231/305/317 over 2,341 at-bats.