I’ve all the time been an enormous Darin Ruf fan, so getting to write down about his 2021 success is a little bit bit extra significant to me than it could be for nearly every other participant. Ruf is the final participant I bear in mind my grandfather singling out earlier than he handed away, with the thought that Ruf, then a younger prospect within the Phillies system, had the potential to be a productive huge leaguer for our favourite staff.
That was 9 years in the past. The Phillies promoted Ruf in late 2012 for his first cup of main league espresso, however he by no means amassed greater than 297 plate appearances in any season for them. The bat was respectable — Ruf posted a 105 wRC+ over 833 plate appearances, together with a 125 wRC+ throughout his 2013 rookie season — however poor defensive numbers stored him barely above replacement-level in virtually 300 video games with Philadelphia. He was traded to the Dodgers in November of 2016, and even earlier than he had a possibility to make his organizational debut, Ruf’s contract was bought by the Samsung Lions of the KBO. For 3 years, he raked in Asia, incomes himself a minor league deal with the Giants for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. (I used to be pretty excited.) A yr later, he’s now the very best hitter on a playoff-bound staff (Kris Bryant is a notable omission from this listing — he has a 119 wRC+ in 128 plate appearances with the Giants to date):
2021 San Francisco Giants by wRC+, Min. 250 PA
It’s no secret that the Giants have been receiving unbelievable manufacturing throughout their total lineup. Their place gamers have posted a collective 113 wRC+ this season, a determine that ranks second in the majors amongst groups’ non-pitchers. However even in a lineup stuffed with gamers having above-average offensive seasons, Ruf stands out together with his .279/.401/.544 slashline and 155 wRC+. That wRC+ ranks seventh within the majors amongst gamers with a minimum of 250 plate appearances general, sandwiched between Juan Soto (156) and Shohei Ohtani (154). That’s fairly phenomenal firm, and it conjures up two apparent questions. First, how did Ruf grow to be top-of-the-line hitters in baseball, a minimum of this season? And, in fact, how sustainable is that this?
The reply to query No. 1 requires a brief primer on what makes Ruf tick. Given the theme of among the articles I’ve written recently, wherein I’ve mentioned how the league-average hitter produces unfavourable worth by run expectancy when swinging, there’s a certain quantity of poetic justice for this baseball author that Ruf virtually by no means swings. Certainly, Ruf solely takes a hack at 37% of pitches, the third-lowest price within the majors amongst gamers with a minimum of 250 plate appearances. The group of hitters who swing this occasionally is an attention-grabbing one, to say the least:
Baseball’s Lowest Swing Charges, Min. 250 PA
Sure, a minimum of by way of swing price, Ruf finds himself proper there amongst Yasmani Grandal, Max Muncy, and Soto three hitters who’re having among the best offensive seasons in all of baseball. As soon as once more, that’s fairly good firm. The truth is, as you possibly can see, many of the hitters on this listing are having strong seasons, although not all of them — the exceptions being Brett Gardner and Josh VanMeter — are above a 100 wRC+.
What’s additionally attention-grabbing right here, although, is that Ruf’s self-discipline appears to be like like it could lag behind the remaining. At 36.3%, he has the worst zone-swing differential (what I’m calling Z-Swing% minus O-Swing%) right here, which can trace that whereas Ruf chooses to not swing more often than not, his eye on the plate nonetheless isn’t that sterling. That is significantly attention-grabbing after we take into account that his 2021 zone-swing differential isn’t that a lot decrease than his profession 37% mark coming into this yr, implying that, a minimum of on this space, there’s no actual enchancment from the participant he’s all the time been. He additionally doesn’t evaluate all that nicely with the remainder of the league. This season, Ruf ranks one hundred and sixty fifth in zone-swing differential out of a complete of 270 hitters with a minimum of 250 plate appearances.
The speed itself is a little bit depending on two necessary elements — specifically, Zone% itself and the truth that, the upper your Z-Swing%, the much less probably it’s to your Swing% to be among the many 10 lowest in baseball — nevertheless it’s value noting that Soto ranks seventeenth in zone-swing differential and nonetheless seems on this listing. So far as Ruf is anxious, he sees little or no within the strike zone: His 39.4% zone price is Twenty seventh-lowest amongst that group of 270 hitters, and but he nonetheless swings at almost one-in-four pitches not within the strike zone. His self-discipline numbers would most likely be even higher if he cleaned up that differential a bit.
However zone-swing differential apart, the truth that Ruf doesn’t swing usually is admittedly fascinating, particularly within the context of his low zone price. This tendency will get him into extra favorable counts extra usually, with greater than 31% of the pitches he’s seen this season coming whereas forward within the depend, a 91st percentile mark. That’s by far the very best price of his profession. The 2 different seasons Ruf noticed greater than 1,000 pitches, 2013 and ’15, simply 26.6% and 25.8% of his pitches seen, respectively, got here whereas forward. Even final yr, in his return to the majors, he was forward within the depend for under 28.6% of pitches seen, a 58th percentile mark.
There are actually extra phrases to be written about how luck and handedness splits have performed into Ruf’s efficiency, however his resolution to swing at one of many lowest charges in baseball feels most notable. It could clarify why his prime line outcomes have been so good, however maybe not totally, as Ruf has the second-highest xwOBA in baseball (out of 258 with 300 outcomes) on plate appearances ending when he’s behind within the depend versus “merely” the Twentieth-best xwOBA whereas forward (out of 240). Relative to himself, he’s nonetheless higher whereas forward (.501 xwOBA forward versus .338 xwOBA behind), in fact, however his potential to nonetheless be strong when behind makes him a extremely powerful hitter to face on the entire.
And that brings us to the second query: Ruf’s sustainability. He hits the quilt off the baseball, posting elite barrel charges and anticipated statistics. Ruf additionally notably stands out in a statistic that has been known as “joint rate,” which captures batted balls which might be each hard-hit (95+ mph EV) and are hit within the candy spot (8-32 diploma LA). These batted balls are form of like barrels, however they don’t have as excessive of a bar to clear: barrels make up round 8% of occasions this yr, whereas balls on this hard-sweet class make up greater than double that (17.8%). The draw back, although, is that you just lose some wOBA: barrels have produced a 1.348 wOBA this yr, whereas hard-sweet occasions have produced “simply” a .920 wOBA compared. Successfully, you’re sacrificing about 30% of wOBA for an occasion that occurs greater than twice as usually. In consequence, it nonetheless looks as if a reasonably strong technique to consider a hitter, even when it’s not fairly pretty much as good as barrels. Simply check out the leaders:
Leaders in Joint (HH + SS) Price, Min. 150 BBE
Now it’s value mentioning that, based mostly on a fast look, I discovered that these kind of occasions are usually not as sticky year-over-year as barrels, nor are they as nicely correlated as with wOBA or xwOBA on contact. This demonstrates that barrel price continues to be a greater measure of hitter talent than joint price, hinting that whereas Ruf’s manufacturing is actually implausible, he’s most likely nonetheless outperforming his true-talent stage. And that’s OK — I wasn’t anticipating to return out of this analysis with the conclusion that Ruf’s efficiency is 100% sustainable going ahead. Plus, age may even actually be a consider future seasons; Ruf turned 35 in July.
However what’s really nice about Ruf is that his efficiency is usually sustainable, which is about pretty much as good of a conclusion as one might ask for. Whereas the self-discipline is probably going extra a results of him selecting to not swing more often than not than him having the ability to higher discern between in- and out-of-zone pitches, and the pop is probably going the results of some further luck slightly than true barrel-based talent, there’s rather a lot right here to recommend that what Darin Ruf is doing is usually legit. He gained’t be a 155 wRC+ bat sooner or later, however with some projection methods having him as excessive as within the low-120s, there’s a lot to make us suppose that Ruf has really grow to be a nicely above-average huge league hitter. He’s been fairly the discover for the NL West-leading Giants, and brings me loads of pleasure figuring out that my grandfather might need ended up being proper.