Headed into last night’s game against the Marlins, Phillies outfielder/first baseman Darin Ruf was ranked sixth among all rookies in on-base percentage, sixth in slugging, was third in drawing walks, fifth in home runs, third in OPS, or on-base percentage plus slugging, third in wOBA, fourth in wRC+, and second in ISO, or isolated power. In a normal year, Ruf would receive consideration for the Rookie of the Year award and perhaps receive down ballot support. But this is no normal year.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN tackled assigning the winner of the Rookie of the Year race. In addition to naming Jose Fernandez his pick for runaway Rookie of the Year, Crasnick named 14 other players who are having great seasons. Some, including power-hitting Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko and power-hitting Braves utility player Evan Gattis, fall behind Ruf in all three triple-slash categories. Yet, there has been no mention of Ruf. What gives?
The truth is, outside of the phenomenal Yasiel Puig, Gyorko, and Gattis, 2013 has been the year of the rookie pitcher. Fernandez, the Braves’ Julio Teheran, the Cardinals’ Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal, the Dodgers’ Paco Rodriguez and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and the Pirates’ Gerrit Cole and Justin Wilson may all ultimately earn a second or third-place rookie of the year vote. Outside of that trio and Noland Arenado, Scooter Genner, Junior Lake, and Matt Adams, Ruf may find himself a capable player among a pretty routine group of rookie hitters who have been completely outshine by an other-worldly rookie pitching class.
Ruf’s 2013 0.7 fWAR would put him ahead of Chris Young’s 2007 rookie campaign of 0.4 WAR and exactly at Jay Bruce’s 2008 rookie year. Both received a few votes in relatively strong classes: 2007 featured Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, and Hunter Pence, while 2008 featured Giovanni Soto, Joey Votto, Jair Jurrjens, and Edison Volquez. Where Ruf falls short, however, is the pure strength of this class: the fifteen players in Crasnick’s piece combined for 29.3 WAR, or an average of 1.95 WAR per player.
Granted, WAR is an accumulated stat and Ruf entered last night’s game with only 273 PA, but players like Puig and Gattis also had less than a full season of playing time also. Had Ruf, or defintely Gattis, played a full season with the numbers they put up, they may have been a Rookie of the Year contender in a weaker year like 1989 (Jerome Walton, 2.0 WAR) or 1996 (Todd Hollandsworth, 1.2 WAR), but there is too much talent in front of them this season. Even though Ruf is not likely to receive a single third place Rookie of the Year vote, there are many positives found in Ruf’s rookie season: the power is real, the plate discipline is real, and the strikeouts should get better. Whether Ruf’s year was good enough to wrap up a spot in the Phillies outfield in 2014 remains a question unanswered.