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Circling the Bases: Two Career Year Catchers

Ray Flowers

Ray Flowers

The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: M-F at 5-8 PM EDT), Ray Flowers has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. You can follow Ray on Twitter (@BaseballGuys), he never sleeps, and you can also find more of his musings at BaseballGuys.com.

As a lifelong Giants fan I'm still stunned by a second championship in three years. I wrote about the victory yesterday in Nirvana... Again. I'm still basking in the glow of that effort, so forgive me if I ramble all over the map in this piece since it's pretty hard to string together a coherent train of thought with visions of sugar plumbs dancing in my head.

PHILLIES MAKING DECISIONS

The Phillies exercised the $5 million option on Carlos Ruiz, a no-brainer move after his massive 2012 effort of .325/.394/.540. Do you know how many players, with at least 400 plate appearances, went .325/.390/.540? Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera, Buster Posey, Joey Votto and Ruiz. Something smell off to you too? Let's break things down with Ruiz.

Ruiz is a career .275 hitter who hit .285 just one time before 2012.
Ruiz had never hit more than nine homers in a season. He went deep 16 times in 2012.
Ruiz had never had 55 RBI in a season. He had 68 in 2012.
Ruiz had never scored 50 runs. He recorded 56 in 2012.
Ruiz had never had 30 doubles. He had 32 in 2012.

Can you say career year? The question now becomes, what does he do for an encore? I'm betting not as well (I know, way to go out on a limb, huh?).

Ruiz isn't a .325 hitter. I shouldn't have to explain that statement, it should be obvious simply on the surface, but here are a couple of points.

(1) He had a .339 BABIP, the highest mark of his career (.295 for his career).

(2) He had a 24 percent line drive rate, the highest mark of his career (19.9 for his career). He had never posted a mark higher than 21 percent for a season.

(3) He actually walked at the lowest rate since his rookie season. From 2008-11 Ruiz had a BB-rate of at least 10.2 percent. He somehow managed to hit a career best .325 despite a mere 6.9 BB-rate in '12.

(4) Ruiz had a K-rate of 11.9 percent, the second worst mark of his career. What that leads to is a rather astounding fact. Ruiz had five more walks than strikeouts coming into the 2012 season, good for a 1.02 BB/K mark. He somehow hit .325 in 2012 with a career low 0.58 BB/K mark. That's more than a 40 percent reduction in his plate discipline mark but somehow he hit .050 points higher than his career norm? It makes no sense – none – and it's one of the oddest numbers I've seen this season since it just doesn't fit the data set.

While it's pretty evident the average isn't going to be repeated, what about the power? Pretty much the same thing there. After hitting 14 homers in 2010-11 Ruiz went deep 16 times in 2012. In 2010-11, if you add together his HR/F ratios, you end up with 11.6 percent. In 2012 that number was 15.1 percent, almost exactly double his career long mark of 7.6 percent. Barring something shocking happening again in 2013, the homer total will fall.

So should you avoid Ruiz in 2013? Heck no. He remains what he has been for the past few years, a strong catcher two who could sneak into the bottom level of catcher one's in mixed leagues. Just make sure that you don't overvalue his fantastic 2012 effort – he simply isn't the player his numbers say he was in the just completed season.

The Phillies declined the $4 million option on the contract of Ty Wigginton. Always a useful part in league specific setups for his pop and multi-position eligibility, Ty hit a career worst .235 and had just 11 homers tying his worst output of seven years. He also posted the highest K-rate of his career, but oddly, also walked more than ever displaying traditional “old man skills.” His years of usefulness in the fantasy game may be on the wane.

A.J. PIERZYNSKI MORE THAN JUST A TV ANNOUNCER?

After his stellar run as a broadcaster for Fox during the playoffs (wink, wink), Pierzynski will return to the field in 2013 to continue his fairly impressive career. Pretty much a full time catcher since 2001, you know what you're getting when you draft A.J. You are getting a .280 hitting second catcher in mixed leagues who will likely hit you about 10 homers while knocking in about 50 runs. He hit .278 in 2012 as expected, but oh boy did the rest of his performance push him to the point of being an elite option at the position.

In 2010-11 A.J. hit 17 homers.
From 2009-11 A.J. hit a total of 30 homers.
In 2012 A.J. went deep 27 times.

Do we have another Carlos Ruiz situation going on here? You bet your...

Turning 36 in late December, is it reasonable to expect a continuation of the power output Pierzynski threw up there in 2012? Catchers often have power surges later in their career, but this is just ridiculous (just like it was with Ruiz). Pierzynksi's raw homer totals paint the picture without the need of extensive analysis. The last time the guy hit 15 homers was 2006, and he had never hit more than 18 homers before his '12 outburst. The last time he had a HR/F average of nine percent, the big league average, was 2006. In 2012 all he did was double that mark at 18.6 percent. His Isolated Power mark, .145 for his career and never that high since 2005, was up at .223 in 2012. Again, doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense.

I will say this for A.J. It clearly appears like he did alter his approach in 2012, and that may allow him to retain some, note I said some, of the power growth. A career 1.37 GB/FB bat, that number, which had been at least 1.35 each of the past three years including a career-high 1.77 in 2011, dropped to 1.17 as his ground ball rate of 42 percent was a career low. A.J. also let the shaft out more than ever before as his K-rate exploded. Pierzynksi's K-rate was 15 percent in 2012. In 2010-11, if you add together the two years numbers, you end up with 14.4 percent. Fewer grounders, more K's, and a massive increase in converting fly balls into bleacher seat rockets... that's all he'll need to repeat him 2013. Don't expect that to occur.

SMART MOVE?

Robinson Cano will be paid $15 million for 2013 as the Yankees picked up the option on his contract. Reports are circulating that Cano is in search of something like 10 years and $200 million on his next contract. Since it worked out so well for the Yankees with A-Rod... what's the deal with teams giving out that much money anyway? Cano is 30 years old. If he gets a 10-year deal he will be finishing that contract up as a 40 year old. Do you know how many second baseman in baseball history have hit 20 homers with 80 RBI when they were 40 years old? Try zero. Hell, there have only been two second basemen who have ever had a 10 HR with 50 RBI season as a 40 year old – Craig Biggio and Jeff Kent. Just some food for thought.

BY THE NUMBERS

.313: The career best batting average of Torii Hunter in his 16th big league season (he had never hit .300 before). Besides the obvious strangeness of that sentence there is this added set of numbers. Hunter walked 38 times, his first season of less than 40 walks in a campaign of 500 at-bats since 2002. Hunter also struck out 133 times, the worst mark of his career. An unlikely way to make a run to hitting .300 for the first time wouldn't you say?

1.102: The second half OPS of Buster Posey. The highest single season mark for a catcher in a campaign of 502 plate appearances is 1.070 for Mike Piazza in 1997. Moreover, there have only been six seasons that a backstop has posted a mark of 1.000 in baseball history.

7: The number of homers that Chris Davis hit in his last seven regular season games to get him to 33 homers on the season. As I've been saying for years, if a team would just run him out there every day... Davis also drove in 85 runners and scored 75 times. Do you know how many infielders went 30-80-75 in 2012? The answer is 11, and that's if we include Adam Dunn (52 games at first), Corey Hart (103 games at first) and Edwin Encarnacion (68 games at first).

8: The number of full seasons that Nick Swisher has played. In each of those eight years he has hit at least 21 homers. In the last seven seasons he has scored at least 75 times. In each of the past four seasons he's driven in at least 82 runs. In 2012 Swisher hit .272 with 24 homers, 93 RBI and 75 runs scored for the Yankees.

19: The number of AL hurlers who threw at least 162 innings while amassing an ERA under 4.00. Do you know how many of those finished with a sub .500 record? The answer is two. Matt Moore was close at 11-11 with a 3.81 ERA, but the two “winners” were Jake Peavy (11-12, 3,37 ERA) and Jeremy Hellickson (10-11, 3.10 ERA). Over the last two years Hellickson is 23-21 despite a 3.02 ERA for the Rays.

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Thursday at 7 PM EDT and Friday's at 9 PM EDT. Ray's analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.