Carlos Ruiz: The Best Catcher In Baseball?

Off the top of your head — if you had to name the catcher who’s having the best season — which player would it be?

Your first guess might be Yadier Molina, considering he’s been such a steady, well-rounded player who posted five seasons in a row with more than +3 wins. But maybe it’s Joe Mauer, the guy who’s returning to form after his injury. Or maybe defensive stud Matt Wieters gets the nod? But don’t forget about Buster Posey, who is still young and has so much talent.

If you’d guessed any of those players, though, you’d be wrong. The catcher who’s having the best 2012 is none other than 33-year-old Carlos Ruiz. Say it with me now: “…Him?”

In fact, if you look at the offensive leaderboard, you’ll see these five hitters sitting at the top of the list:

wOBA wRC+
Andrew McCutchen 0.450 189
Joey Votto 0.445 183
Mike Trout 0.431 176
Ryan Braun 0.427 173
Carlos Ruiz 0.428 172

There are actually a number of surprising things happening within that top five: McCutchen hitting for power? Trout being that good? But Ruiz  being the fifth-best hitter in baseball through mid-July is about as unpredictable as it comes. His defense has also been above average, so he currently sports +4.8 wins and is on pace for nearly +7 wins — by far the best mark by a major-league catcher this year.

Because of his surge, Ruiz actually ranks as one of the best catchers in recent history, too. He’s had a total of +12.4 wins since 2010, again making him as the game’s best catcher.

So did you catch the flaw in my argument? Actually, I made a couple mistakes, which I hope you were quick enough to catch. I began by assuming that simply because a player has had the best results so far in the season, it therefore makes him The Best. I then cherry pickd a time frame that I knew would make Ruiz look favorable — only going back to 2010 since that’s when he had his best season. I constructed an argument that made a degree of sense, but I selectively picked my data to make a point and over-extended my argument.

It’d be more correct to say that Ruiz has been the best catcher in baseball so far this season, but it’s difficult to tell exactly how good we should expect him to be going forward. His .353 batting average will surely drop as his .368 BABIP stabilizes; and I find it suspicious that Ruiz’s home-run-per-fly-ball rate has surged from 8% to 18% at 33 years old. Mike Podhorzer says he found some reasons to believe that the surge might be legit — among them, Ruiz’s double rate has also jumped and his average home run distance increased from last year — but if I were a betting man, my gummy bears would be on regression.

So from this perspective, who’s the best catcher in baseball? ZiPS projects Ruiz to have a .360 wOBA during the remainder of the season, but it also projects Joe Mauer to post a .363 wOBA going forward. Yadier Molina certainly should be in the discussion, although he’s also seeing a large-and-debatably-sustainable surge in his home run rate. And can you truly ignore Brian McCann, despite his current slump? It’s not an easy question, and you could make a good case for any of these players — although it is true that Ruiz is significantly older than Mauer, Molina or McCann.

For once, though, let’s not worry about the future. In the here and now, Ruiz has been raking and is a bright spot on an otherwise forgettable Phillies season. That deserves a hearty tip of the cap and the acknowledgement that right now — at this precise moment in time — maybe he truly is the best.




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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.


37 Responses to “Carlos Ruiz: The Best Catcher In Baseball?”

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  1. Andy says:

    He’s this year’s version of Mike Napoli.

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  2. Billion Memes says:

    Chooch! Forget BABIP, its all because of the ice cream. http://mistertug.com/chooch-loves-ice-cream.gif

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  3. Harry says:

    I’d guess the power surge is a fluke, but it is worth noting that Chooch put on some weight (and I don’t necessarily mean muscle) this past offseason.

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  4. LTG says:

    Ruiz has also changed his swing-prep. He no longer takes a large leg-lift before his swing. His foot now slightly lifts and comes back down. This change could account for (some of) the increase in BABIP and HR/FB%.

    Also, premises are not argument flaws. Every argument has premises. And each of your conclusions in the article is time-relative. So, how is it that those premises are insufficient to establish your conclusion? Perhaps, the unarticulated premise that WAR is the definitive measure of performance quality for catchers could be questioned, but it is not obviously a mistake. (Anti-WAR crowd? Bait?)

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    • Chomp says:

      Ala Austin Jackson…look how that has helped him this year as well.

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    • LTG says:

      Interestingly, a similar adjustment by Jose Bautista drove his BABIP down because he started hitting way more FBs. For Ruiz, his LD% has gone up but his FB% down, while increasing his power tremendously.

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  5. Ben says:

    Great post. An balanced assessment of Chooch’s excellent play.

    The underlying issue is pinning down what exactly what we mean when we say The Best. Are past results relevant to the determination of The Best beyond their ability to project future performance? It is tempting to ignore them, but in doing so, do we run the risk of putting too much stock in our predictive abilities, perhaps mis-assigning such a lofty title due to an unknown systematic flaw in the forecasting methodology.

    Even if we choose to only use the past insofar as it can predict the future, how far into the future do we look when assigning this title? Is the player with the greatest expected WAR in the immediate future, ignoring all past results, The Best? Is The Best a similar player, but with the highest expected cumulative WAR over longer time frame (say 2-3 years) from now? Are “the bonus points” awarded for a flashy nickname or stylish facial hair?

    Perhaps one of the resident masseurs or masseuses of the English language at NotGraphs could help address these questions.

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    • cable fixer says:

      “the best” is too relative a claim because it relies on so many conditions that, frankly, are unlikely to be agreed upon–especially in a fluid state.

      this is one of the reasons a tiered approach is better, IMO.

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  6. gonfalon says:

    I’ve always been partial to Chooch, as his defense reminds me of my favorite player, Tony Pena. Given his offensive explosion this year, I’d take Ruiz over any other catcher in baseball right now.

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    • jirish says:

      Me too. I have been extolling his virtues to anyone that would listen. He has been in the midst of one of the best catching seasons ever.

      I love that he felt ‘snubbed’ and was upset about not winning the fan all star vote, or the players vote, and having to be named by the manager. It’s going to propel him to a batting title. You WILL know him next year!

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  7. lester bangs says:

    It’s Yadi. Oh, and easy on the italics, captain.

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  8. Romogenized Melk says:

    No

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  9. B N says:

    I can’t say I’m overly surprised to see him be the best catcher in baseball for a year. I’ve always felt that Ruiz is one of those guys who has been consistently underrated over his career. He’s a catcher with above average defensive skills and above average OBP for a catcher.

    Let’s exclude this year and look at 2000 to 2011. Over that period, Ruiz had the 14rth best WAR/Game of all catchers (out of 77 qualified players). Who was above him? Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, Mike Napoli, Jorge Posada, Ivan Rodriguez, Russell Martin, Victor Martinez, Matt Wieters, Geovany Soto, Mike Piazza, Javy Lopez, Charles Johnson, Nick Hundley. It’s not like he’s a shuffler in total playing time either, with a total WAR good for 20th on the list (and being compared to people who played more seasons during the decade).

    If we include 2012 so far, he’s 6th on WAR/Game after: Mauer, McCann, Posada, Napoli, and Rodriguez. Considering one of those guys is half DH/half catcher, I’d probably downgrade Napoli a bit and so you’re basically saying he’s the 5th best catcher of the decade maybe? That’s pretty impressive for a guy who is known more for his defense, at a position where we don’t do a great job measuring all the tools of defense.

    Or, in other words, if you thought Yadier Molina would have more value you’ve been paying too much attention to batting average and not enough to walks. Because most people would tell you that a guy with a 3% higher walk rate, similar power, and similar average is a better hitter.

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  10. Peter says:

    Power surge in his age 33 season? And a catcher? That doesn’t happen without some help.

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  11. the hottest stove says:

    I’ll still take the additional defense, offense, and stolen bases that Yadi provides. You can have Ruiz’s everything else….which looks to be: “baserunning in non-stealing situations”.

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    • hk says:

      How exactly does Yadi provide additional offense over Ruiz? Ruiz has a higher OBP, SLP, wOBA and WRC+. Is it the 19 extra SB’s that he’s accumulated over his career? If so, you might also want to look at the 16 extra CS’s. There’s an argument to be made that Yadi > Ruiz, but that argument is almost solely based on his better defense.

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  12. Pat says:

    You could have picked a Arrested Development .gif if Micheal actually saying “Him?” from Season 3 – Prison Break-in. I find the .gif you used to be a fraud.

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  13. jim says:

    easy answer: no. if you asked “carlos ruiz, luckiest catcher in baseball in 2012?” then the answer is yes

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    • john says:

      how does a player luck his way to a .350 average?

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      • jim says:

        you must be new around here

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      • brez224 says:

        His babip may be high but with a LD % of 23.8 its only so lucky. Hes hitting the ball hard and consistantly has multihit games. Consider also that he has a certain presence and swagger that he carries both on the defensive and offensive end. Hes fun to watch and very consistant. While I doubt he ever hits for 350 in a full season again (and very well might not even finish this year with that ridiculous average,) but similar to Bautista and Encarnacion, Ruiz is simply finding his groove at a later stage in his career and looks like hes gonna produce at a high level until Father Time has his way.

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    • joe says:

      you can be the best and the luckiest at the same time.

      the answer is yes, right now he is.
      top 5 wRC+
      Respect.

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    • Philadelphiandy says:

      I’d say his 12.3 K% and his 23.8 Line Drive % have more to do with his batting average than luck. He’s also hitting fewer infield flies than ever. If you don’t believe in his power, fine, but to write off his season as lucky is to overlook the legitimate improvements he’s made at the plate.

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  14. blahblahblah says:

    I’ve never understood why Ruiz gets such little respect

    2010 .302/.400/.447, .366 wOBA, 126 wRC+
    2011 .283/.371/.383, .332 wOBA, 108 wRC+

    Thats .292/.385/.414, .349, 116 wRC+ the last two seasons prior to this years surge.

    And how does it stack up to other catchers with 300+ PA?

    .292 BA – 4th behind V-Mart, Mauer and Posey
    .385 OBP – 2nd behind only Mauer
    .349 wOBA – 9th behind Napoli, V-Mart, Posey, CSantana, McCann, Ross, Mauer and Avila
    116 wRC+ – 9th behind same ofcourse
    905 PA – 11th with only V-Mart, McCann, Napoli and Mauer having more PA and higher wOBA/wRC+

    Again, thats before this year. I just dont see how he has not been owned in almost every league, that kind of steady strong production from the Catchers spot is fantastic. Yet until recently he was always hovering around the 1/4th-1/3 owned marks (from my recollection)

    People kept taking fliers on younger players like Salty and Arencibia to fill that difficult hole, while Ruiz continued chugging along producing like crazy on everyones waiver wires.

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  15. chiefglockandhummer says:

    don’t mean to be a trolling homer, ’cause even without the power chooch is obviously still a great catcher, but the sleeping on brian mccann this season is getting a little surreal. let’s be clear: mac has been better than chooch every year of his career except this one and is five years younger. he’s a better player.

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  16. Anon21 says:

    It seems like the best catcher in baseball designation probably moves around a lot more than other bests in baseball. Mauer, McCann, now Ruiz in a 3-4 year period, and maybe Molina sneaks in there too for some people. I guess it’s just in the nature of the position that it’s hard to sustain a long run of dominance.

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  17. Jon L. says:

    Two quick criticisms:

    1. The intro to the article doesn’t work that well with the title – sort of as if “The Sixth Sense” had been called “Ghost Psychologist.”

    2. You say he’s at +4.8 wins and on pace for nearly +7 wins, but +4.8 wins at this point in the season would easily put him on a pace for more than +8.

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    • blahblahblah says:

      to #2, so far he has seen 60% of his expected PA/Playing time. If he only gets another 40% of what he has done so far, then he would gain about +2.8 WAR to his current 4.8 for around 7.7.

      Its much later in the season then many people seem to think. The Phillies have played 92 already, so 57% of their scheduled.

      Also, realistically he should see at least a slight regression on his BAbip even if he keeps a similar production pace. It will likely be difficult to pass 8+ for him, so they arent out of line for giving a more honest assessment I dont think

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      • Jon L. says:

        The exact calculation for what he’s on pace for through 93 games is +4.8 *162/93 = +8.36 wins. I agree that that would be a very optimistic projection, but it is nonetheless his current pace.

        It may be that the author was meaning to refer to his ZIPS projection, which is currently listed at 6.7 WAR.

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  18. Robbie G. says:

    If you are ten games behind in the wild card race, and, at 11 games below .500, you are the fifth-worst team in the league, and you have a 33-year-old catcher who is having a career year… you have to shop the guy, right? What would Philly realistically hope to get back for Carlos Ruiz? He represents a massive upgrade at the C position for all of the following teams:

    Yankees
    Rays
    Angels
    Athletics (only 0.5 games back in the wild card race!)
    Nationals
    Mets

    Side note: A couple of years ago, I was looking at all players who had more walks than strikeouts, for that particular season as well as during the two previous seasons. There were very few names on this list, less than five, I think. Ruiz was one of the guys on this list.

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  19. lollers says:

    Crazy

    A guy that looks like you would pick him up at the Home Depot to do some yard work for $20 can be the best catcher in baseball.

    -6 Vote -1 Vote +1

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