Last Thursday, fellow RotoGrapher Chris Cwik tried to make sense of Justin Ruggiano‘s half a season breakout performance last year. Chris primarily focused on historical comparables and concluded that it is unlikely that Ruggiano will continue to enjoy above average offensive performance. Looking at historical comparables is a good idea and tells us that Ruggiano is indeed facing long odds. However, I want to take that analysis one step further and dive into Ruggiano’s specific skill set to determine whether he’ll experience a better fate than the majority of the group in Chris’ sample.
Last season, Ruggiano contributed in all five categories while he was on the field. The biggest knock against him by critics is that he BABIP’ed .401 and so his batting average could potentially crater this coming season. Given a high strikeout rate, a BABIP closer to the league average could result in a batting average that is quite harmful to fantasy teams. But Ruggiano has rarely posted a BABIP anywhere near the league average. He has consistently posted marks above .360 in the minors and even twice he enjoyed .400+ marks. In his limited Major League experience, his IFFB% is about half the league average, and of course he has good power and speed. While his BABIP will most certainly decline, he should still manage to post a batting average that would at worst be neutral to your fantasy team.
So we have established that his potential batting average isn’t as concerning as some believe. Even if he did end up a bit unlucky in that department, his speed gives him a downside cushion to prop up his overall fantasy value. He stole 14 bases last year in half a season, which extrapolates to nearly 30 in a full season and he has consistently swiped bags in the minor leagues. The Marlins offense looks meager, so you wouldn’t expect Ruggiano to be given the red light.
For some reason, it seems like another big question is Ruggiano’s power. Both the Steamer projection system and the Fans expect a significant decline in HR/FB rate (the metric isn’t actually projected, but it could be inferred). If he were to receive the at-bats those two systems are projecting, then based on last year’s home run rate, he would be projected for about 23 homers. They are only projecting 15. But what these projections are seemingly not taking into account is this number: 310.51. That’s the average distance of Ruggiano’s home runs and fly balls last year. That ranked third in all of baseball. The crazy thing is that this distance only resulted in a HR/FB ratio of 16.7%. As you may recall, I found a significant correlation between batted ball distance and HR/FB rate, so if anything, Ruggiano may have actually been a bit unlucky last year in his HR/FB rate. His new home park may have had something to do with that though, and sure enough, his home HR/FB rate was just 10.5% versus 22.5% on the road.
While Ruggiano is unlikely to post another 310 foot average distance on these batted balls, he could see his distance fall quite a bit and still repeat his home run output. The contact rate is going to prevent him from being a 30 homer guy, but he doesn’t need to be given his stolen base prowess.
Sure, Ruggiano isn’t 100% guaranteed to even open the season as the starting center fielder for the fish, but c’mon now. His competition currently stands as Gorkys Hernandez and Bryan Peterson. That does nothing to hurt my confidence that he’ll be the every day center fielder. Oh, and with Giancarlo Stanton likely to open the season hitting third, that makes Ruggiano the most obvious candidate to hit clean-up, especially with Logan Morrison’s health still up in the air.
So you want a projection, right?
Aside from the Bill James forecast (surprise, surprise), mine is the most optimistic with a projected fantasy line probably earning a bit more than the Fans. And no system has dared to project more than 515 at-bats. But if he performs as well as I am projecting, then he should reach at least 550 at-bats assuming good health. That serves as further counting number upside in addition to the potential for a higher HR/FB rate given his batted ball distance. He represents the perfect sleeper, as the knee-jerk reaction is to believe last year’s small sample breakout was a complete fluke. It wasn’t.