Commentary

Phillies Enjoying A Carlos Ruiz Renaissance

RuizThe top slugger on the 2016 Phillies isn’t Maikel Franco. It’s not Odubel Herrera. Not even Freddy Galvis or Cameron Rupp.

The team’s top slugger after one month is its oldest member, the 37-year-old backstop from Panama who will one day see his plaque unveiled in the Phillies Wall of Fame.

Carlos Ruiz is having a nice season.

Here are the numbers – .297 AVG, .381 OBP, .595 SLG, two doubles, three home runs and six runs batted in, all in merely 42 plate appearances. He’s also worth 0.7 WAR already, pretty good for just 10 games of action. Ruiz has already surpassed his 2015 home run total; and if he were somehow able to keep up this production over the full season, he’d trump his career year of 2012, in which he hit .325 with 16 home runs while earning his only all-star game appearance.

It’s rare that a modern-day catcher has a renaissance year at age 37, but there is a precedent: Former Phillie Benito Santiago slugged 16 home runs for the 2002 Giants (taking advantage of a peak Barry Bonds season), his best season since his solid 1996 with the Phils. And A.J. Pierzynski inexplicably hit .300 with a .430 slugging percentage for the Braves last season, at age 38.

But again, outside of Hall of Fame talents like Mike Piazza and Carlton Fisk, it’s rare that a catcher plays so well at 37. Typically men of his ilk flame out before then, and many simply retire around age 35 or 36.

So it’s nearly remarkable that Ruiz is performing so well for what baseball considers an old age, especially for backstops, and especially considering he’s been catching in the Phillies organization for 16 years, starting as a 21-year-old in 2000 with the Gulf Coast club.

That’s also a rare thing these days, that any player in baseball can claim 17 years with an organization. In fact, Ruiz is the only major leaguer who can claim 17 years with the same franchise; Ryan Howard is in his 16th season with the Phils organization, as are Joe Mauer with the Twins, Yadier Molina with the Cardinals and David Wright with the Mets.

That tenure may end after this season. It’s no secret the Phillies are transitioning into a new era of catching, one led by top prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp; the former started hot this season before suffering an oblique injury, and the latter is hitting well thus far in 2016. And while Cameron Rupp occasionally makes his case for a future with the Phils, it’s more likely the two backstops on this year’s squad are just keeping the spots warm.

Critics may have derided the Phils’ penchant for holding onto veteran talent over the last few years, and while the remarks were mostly accurate, they don’t necessarily account for the emotional attachment we fans can feel for our favorite players. Some of us moped when Chase Utley was dealt to Los Angeles (he’s having a heck of a season, by the way), and some of us are still having trouble seeing Jimmy Rollins in White Sox pinstripes (he looks good in them). We can’t help but become attached when these players were there, every day and night, wearing that uniform and running roughshod on the National League for a handful of years. Those were damn good times. Hopefully a couple years from now we’ll feel the same about a new crop of Phils.

But for many of us, nothing will match those glory days of playoff appearances and perfect pitching. And there for it all, catching all the big games, hitting myriad clutch extra-base knocks – and one beautiful swinging bunt – was Chooch.

He’s still here, surprisingly playing some of his best baseball this year. Enjoy him while you can.

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