Phillies 2013 Preview: Catcher

2012 was a season of career highs for Carlos Ruiz. Despite appearing in just 114 games, he clubbed 16 home runs and saw his isolated power jump to .215, more than doubling his 2011 totals in both categories. It’s unclear how much of those gains were legitimate, however, after Ruiz was suspended in November for 25 games for testing positive (twice) for an unprescribed amphetamine (Adderall).

Adderall is used to treat attention-deficit disorders and is neither a steroid nor a performance-enhancing drug (hence the 25-game suspension instead of 50). Ruiz wasn’t juicing, by the classic definition, but he probably benefited from increased attention and focus.

Ruiz’s approach at the plate was slightly different in 2012. He swung at more pitches than ever, both inside and outside the strike zone. This increased aggressiveness led to both a few more hits and a few less walks than usual, illustrated by a career-high .325 batting average and 6.9% walk rate, the lowest since his rookie 2006 season.

It’s likely that the .325 batting average was a bit lucky, fueled by a career-high .339 BABIP while his ground ball and fly ball rates hovered around career norms. His 16 home runs could prove a product of good fortune, as well, stemming from an also career-high 15.4% HR/FB rate. Take into account that Ruiz turned 34 in January, and it seems unlikely that he will surpass or match his 2012 offensive output again.

Either way, Chooch has clearly established himself as one of the game’s premiere backstops. He finished third among catchers with 5.5 fWAR last season, a 6.8 fWAR/140 game pace. Long lauded for his defensive and game-calling abilities, Ruiz has finally arrived offensively, better late than never. A few steps backward production-wise would still keep him among the few best catchers in baseball.

It’s also worth noting that Ruiz could be batting lower in the Phillies’ order this year. Last season, he received many at-bats as the team’s cleanup or fifth hitter during the extended absences of lineup centerpieces Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Now that Utley and Howard are healthy and ready to resume duties as the team’s 3-4 punch, Ruiz could be dropped down a few spots, depending on how well other righties, such as Darin Ruf and John Mayberry, Jr., are hitting. Ruiz should still see plenty of fastballs, but RBI and run-scoring opportunities could be harder to come by.

Projections: .287, 10 HR, 56 RBI, 48 R, 2 SB

Erik Kratz will likely be the Phillies’ starting catcher on Opening Day. Kratz, a career minor leaguer and journeyman, was surprisingly solid as Ruiz’s primary fill-in and injury replacement last year. He could be a good backup again with decent pop, although a 20.0% HR/FB in 2012 is a bit suspect.

Projections: .245, 12 HR, 38 RBI, 31 R, 0 SB

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