If you attended one of the first 25 games of the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies season you may have noticed the absence of a familiar sound.
The longtime starting catcher and fan favorite, Carlos Ruiz was suspended for the first 25 games of the 2013 season for testing positive for an amphetamine, Adderall. Ruiz wouldn’t make his debut until April 28 against the New York Mets at Citi Field.
His return wouldn’t last long, as he was placed on the DL on May 20 with a Grade 2 strained hamstring. Suddenly, his career year in 2012 felt like it was forever long ago, and people began to wonder if it was the banned substance he was taking that had to do with his 2012 season.
Ruiz struggled to get going in 2013 and he finished the year hitting only .268, his worst batting average since 2009. Overall, it was Ruiz’s worst offensive season since 2008 as he also finished with a .368 SLG percentage and a dismal .688 OPS. It was clear from his first game back that he was playing catch up and wasn’t seeing the ball. Ruiz was no longer the player keeping the Phillies alive in the 2012 playoff race, but rather another part of a disappointing 2013 ball club. Ruiz’s WAR dropped from 5.2 in 2012 to just 1.4 in 2013 according to FanGraphs’.
One area where Ruiz continued to excel was calling games behind the plate. There’s a reason why Roy Halladay loves pitching to him; Ruiz is arguably the best catcher in the league when it comes to calling games and is highly respected by his coaches and peers across the league. It’s not a complete coincidence that Cole Hamels began turning his season around after Ruiz returned behind the plate. Chooch could be partly responsible for the turn-around for the young pitchers such as Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg, Jake Diekman, and Ethan Martin. They all went on to have successful second halves in the bullpen.
Ruiz remained effective on defense as well, especially when it came to blocking pitches. Ruiz’s RPP (Passed Pitch Runs), which calculates the number of runs above / below average a catcher is at blocking pitches, was still well above average at 1.8 last season. Chooch’s dWAR remained around his career average at 0.9 as well. Ruiz was certainly not a defensive liability in 2013 for the Phillies.
The 34-year-old Panamanian, who recently signed a 3 year, $26 million contract to remain in Philadelphia, was able to close out the 2013 season strong, posting a .795 OPS in his final 43 games. By the end of the season it seemed as if Ruiz was finally able to “catch up.” Unfortunately, it was a little too late salvage what had been a miserable year.
The Phils brass are hoping that his strong finish carries over into 2014 and beyond, their belief being evident with the fresh contract.
Grade: C-: The 2013 campaign didn’t start the way Carlos Ruiz would have liked with the 25-game suspension, and it never really seemed to get better. It was a sharp offensive decline for a man who was supposed to help the Phillies out with their woes against left-handed pitching. However, Chooch remained a leader in the clubhouse and continued to command the pitching staff as well as any catcher in the league. If Ruiz can continue to be that leader and build off of his final 50 games from last season than the chants of, “Choooooooch” may once again return in loud fashion in 2014.