Justin Ruggiano and Continuing Failure

A July 8 article in the Sun-Sentinel by Juan C. Rodriguez asked, “Is Justin Ruggiano the next Marlin to go?” The same things that made him desirable to Miami made him desirable to contenders. He was versatile, he could hit a little bit, he was inexpensive, and he was under team control. The Marlins might’ve been motivated to move him on account of their upcoming outfield prospects. The Marlins additionally might’ve been motivated to move him on account of being the Marlins. It made sense to ask the question about Ruggiano, but the trade deadline came and went, and Ruggiano stuck. He made an appearance for the Marlins just Sunday.

Another thing about this past July 8 — that’s the last day Justin Ruggiano had a hit. In the fifth inning of a game against the Braves, he singled to left off Mike Minor. It was a liner, and it drove in a run. Sunday, Ruggiano pinch-hit and faced Minor, and he grounded out. His hitless streak is alive, and it’s up to 42 at-bats. Ruggiano doesn’t have a hit in more than a month. He’s not a starter anymore, but he’s still on the team, playing sometimes, and he probably can’t remember the last time he had fun playing. This streak is approaching a record, and to Ruggiano, it feels like it.

Said Ruggiano, saying nothing:

“I don’t have anything to say so, obviously, that’s how I’m dealing with it,” Ruggiano said Sunday when asked how he was coping with the long drought.

Ruggiano doesn’t have a hit in 42 consecutive at-bats. The all-time record for a non-pitcher is 46 at-bats, and that belongs to Eugenio Velez, that history having been made in 2011. The all-time record for a pitcher is, I don’t know, something, something presumably longer, but that should hardly count. Generally speaking, records become less and less interesting the more qualifiers you add, but it only makes sense to compare a non-pitcher to non-pitchers. Ruggiano could be a few days away from one of the ugliest records one could possess.

A year ago, Ruggiano played in 91 games for the Marlins, batting 320 times. This year, Ruggiano’s played in 91 games for the Marlins, batting 327 times. His wRC+ this year is exactly half of last year’s 146. That’s part of what makes this so interesting — Ruggiano, in the past, has been able to hit. He owns a career .291 average in Triple-A. From his debut with the Marlins to the start of this slump, he batted .271 with an .810 OPS in about 600 trips to the plate. Ruggiano was looking like a valuable asset, up until he became the least productive hitter in the league. He was someone contenders wanted to trade for, and someone his own team didn’t want to trade. Velez? Velez is bad. Not a hitter. Ruggiano was a hitter, and hitters get hits.

Below, you’ll find the conclusion of Justin Ruggiano’s most recent at-bat:

RuggioOutMinor.gif.opt

That’s a weak tapper, off the end of the bat. That’s the kind of ball in play you get from guys riding hitless streaks. For evidence that Ruggiano just wants this thing to end, here’s the first pitch of the same at-bat:

RuggianoBuntMinor.gif.opt

It’s not that Ruggiano is necessarily the most experienced bunter. He has, in his big-league career, all of two bunt hits. But when you haven’t hit in a month, you don’t exactly have it in mind to be picky. In a recent contribution to Baseball Prospectus, Gabe Kapler talked about players’ mindsets, and the importance of getting hits instead of, say, just hitting the ball hard. Kapler was arguing that this needs to be changed, but for now, players are concerned with their results, and Ruggiano wants a hit however he can get one. If a hit were to come on a bunt, it would come on a bunt, and Ruggiano could go from there. (It didn’t come on a bunt.)

Not that looking at this differently could offer Ruggiano much consolation. Not only does he not have a hit; he hasn’t hit into many hard outs. Of his 30 balls in play during the slump, just two have been recorded as line drives, and they both came on July 13 against the Nationals. Here are those line drives:

RuggianoLiner1.gif.opt

RuggianoLiner2.gif.opt

Both were fairly easily catchable. Neither was killed. Maybe Ruggiano’s best contact came in what would become the first official at-bat of this streak. Back on July 8, Ruggiano singled against Minor. The next time up, he drew a walk. The next time up, he flew out:

RuggianoHeyward.gif.opt

As Ruggiano returned to the Marlins dugout, he offered to Jason Heyward a tip of the batting helmet. At that point, his hitless streak spanned one at-bat. Were that to happen again today, Ruggiano’s helmet would probably do something else. I don’t know if there’s really such thing as selfish baseball — what’s good for the individual is good for the team — but right now Ruggiano probably cares more about getting a hit than he cares about his team winning a game. Everything else can go back to normal after Ruggiano goes back to normal.

Of course, something like this can’t exist without controversy. Ruggiano already had an extended hitless streak when the Marlins faced the Brewers on July 21. Against Wily Peralta in the third, Ruggiano flew out. Against Peralta in the fifth, he walked. Against Peralta in the eighth, he put in play a swinging bunt.

RuggianoOutSafe.gif.opt

According to first-base umpire Manny Gonzalez, Jeff Bianchi threw Ruggiano out. According to slow-motion instant replays, well, maybe not:

ruggiano07212013t8

Ruggiano, probably, had himself an infield single, and as we’ve already established, it’s not like Ruggiano is holding out for a solid line drive. Since this grounder, Ruggiano’s gone 0-for-17. I don’t know if Velez’s streak included a similarly questionable call, but Ruggiano, at least, has a screenshot on his side. Even if he does set a new record, he’d know with a high degree of certainty he doesn’t deserve it. Maybe that actually makes things worse.

There are a few things working for Ruggiano. One is the above — the fact that, during his hitless streak, he probably had a hit. That, if nothing else, merits an asterisk. Two, Ruggiano still has a few more tries before he goes in the history books. If he can get a hit in one of his next three at-bats, he’ll avoid tying Velez. Just based on his .246 career average, he has a 57% chance of getting that hit. Three, Velez’s streak isn’t actually officially over. Velez’s 46th consecutive hitless at-bat came on September 28, 2011. He hasn’t had a major-league at-bat since, and he’s only 31. He’s posted a .399 OBP this year in Triple-A as a utility type, and he might extend that streak yet. Even if Ruggiano does blow past 46, Velez might someday catch up. It’s not all bad for Justin Ruggiano, is the point.

But it surely feels like it is. And, a year after feeling like he established himself, Ruggiano has to be wondering. Failure can do unspeakable things to the brain, and Ruggiano might not remember what it feels like to not fail at his job. Snapping this streak isn’t going to get any easier.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
2 years 11 months ago

Fantasy sleeper!

Glorpo
Member
Glorpo
2 years 11 months ago

God, I just had a vision of the likely worst baseball movie ever. Ruggiano extends the streak to exactly 46 ABs and gets injured/DFA’d/whatever & misses he rest of the season.

Flash-forward to next spring training, Justin shows up as a non-roster invitee hoping to win the 25th spot on the roster, but when he gets to his locker, surprise-surprise, he discovers he’ll be competing with Eugenio Velez. Wacky hijinks ensue as the two navigate montages of bunting drills & running out grounders, each battling with the fear of actually making the team and claiming the streak for their own.

Eventually they each elevate each other’s game and realize that compared to everyone else on the roster, they are not actually that bad.

I’m tentatively calling the movie “The 2014 Chicago White Sox”, starring Adam Sandler & Tyler Perry.

Bobby Ayala
Guest
Bobby Ayala
2 years 11 months ago

At some point one of them has a souffle in the oven, and the other comes over and slams the door shouting “Hey Eugenio!” and he whispers “be quiet! There’s a souffle in the oven!” but it’s too late, the souffle has collapsed!

That Guy
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That Guy
2 years 11 months ago

Yikes. You either write for Hollywood, or should. I’d almost watch that.

Franco
Guest
Franco
2 years 11 months ago

Oh hush, baseball fans will watch any and all baseball movies. Tell me you turn off Little Big League or Rookie of the Year when you stumble across it.

Dan Greer
Member
Dan Greer
2 years 11 months ago

/slow clap

Jaack
Guest
Jaack
2 years 11 months ago

The saddest thing about Eugenio Velez was that the last 37 ABs of that streak was his entire 2011 season. Dude still managed 5 Runs and an RBI that season.

kiss my GO NATS
Guest
kiss my GO NATS
2 years 11 months ago

when I look at the stats, I see some real bad luck.

kiss my GO NATS
Guest
kiss my GO NATS
2 years 11 months ago

For example, Velez BABIP was .159 in 2010 and zero in 2011. He is a fast guy, so that has to include a good amount of bad luck!

Ruggiano in 2013 BABIP .222.

frivoflava29
Member
frivoflava29
2 years 11 months ago

Low babip can also be a sign that a batter is playing in a league above his level. If I played MLB, my babip would be .000 and it most certainly wouldn’t be due to bad luck.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 11 months ago

But any decent triple A player’s true talent major league BABIP is above .000 – it’s still bad luck no matter how you slice it.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 11 months ago

“If I played MLB, my babip would be .000 and it most certainly wouldn’t be due to bad luck.”

I don’t think that’s true. Your *batting average* would be very near .000 because you would very rarely make contact, but if you did manage to get the bat on the ball at some point you would fluke your way to a bloop hit on occasion. Certainly your BABIP would still be very low, and not anywhere near a major leaguer’s, but still non-zero.

I believe in you! (If “belief” equals a .005 batting average or some such.)

not to sound like an athlete, but...
Guest
not to sound like an athlete, but...
2 years 11 months ago

I’m not sure you have any conception of how difficult it is to hit a baseball. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the true talent of someone off the street is a .000/.050/.000 triple slash line.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 11 months ago

Ha ha, their only hope would be to crowd the plate in hopes that a pitch gets away from the pitcher.

eddiegaedel
Member
eddiegaedel
2 years 11 months ago

I always get Justin Ruggiano and Josh Rutledge mixed up… Oh wait, they are both horrible? Noted.

diegosanchez
Guest
diegosanchez
2 years 11 months ago

Luke Scott had a 41 AB hitless streak earlier this season which he snapped on July 6th with a homer.

Nina
Guest
Nina
2 years 11 months ago

The past tense of “fly out” is “flied out” (see sense 7). Against Wily Peralta in the third, Ruggiano flied out. If he ever actually flew out to right field, you can bet it would be all over the news.

Colin
Guest
Colin
2 years 11 months ago

If he was not actually playing in major league baseball while I sit at home I would feel very sorry for him. As it is he is on a major league roster so I would happily trade places with him.

Bread n Mustard
Guest
Bread n Mustard
2 years 11 months ago

He can’t blame Tino Martinez anymore for his short comings.

Ricky
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Ricky
2 years 11 months ago

Just barely beat Craig Counsells 0 for 45 streak in 2011

Dustin
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Dustin
2 years 11 months ago

It’s weird that you point to Ruggiano’s AAA batting average as evidence that he’s a good hitter. However you dismiss Velez as a bad hitter; meanwhile, he’s got a better AAA batting average.

FeslenR
Guest
FeslenR
2 years 11 months ago

He’s the Anthony Young of hitters! Poor poor Justin, maybe Dayton Moore should give him a try?

Franco
Guest
Franco
2 years 11 months ago

Ruggiano might be worse than Young’s streak. I’m a Mets fan and that streak had a lot more to do with a bad offense, terrible defense and the universe hating the Mets. Young had decent stuff and he rarely got wild or gave up a bunch of homers.

Ruggiano is “earning” this streak himself.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 11 months ago

On the other hand, Valez may never play in the majors again, and if Ruggiano reaches or surpasses 46, his fate could be similar. You have to think in the back of his mind he’s playing more for his spot in the bigs than avoiding some random (awful) record.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 11 months ago

The longest ever streak of hitless at bats?

Justin’s got this.

Susan Murray
Guest
2 years 11 months ago

Great article and photos/gifs. Thanks for sharing.

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