The next player on the San Francisco Giants season reviews is corner outfielder and designated hitter Darin Ruf.
40 games, 100 plate appearances, .276/.370/.517, .887 OPS, 5 home runs, 18 RBI, 13 walks to 23 strikeouts
143 OPS+, 141 wRC+, 0.5 rWAR, 0.7 fWAR
Status throughout the season
Ruf made the Opening Day roster, and stayed on the active roster all season long.
The Giants signed Ruf to a Minor League deal, hoping that his dynamic three-year run in the KBO would lead to MLB success that had escaped him earlier in his career. While in the KBO, Ruf had shown stark improvements in the two most important elements of modern hitting: plate discipline and power.
Small sample sizes apply, but in 2020 Ruf looked like he was still in the KBO. Just look at the trends from 2014-16 (with the Philadelphia Phillies), 2017-19 (with the Samsung Lions), and 2020 (with the Giants).
Home run power:
2014-16: 18 home runs in 503 PAs (one home run every 27.9 PAs)
2017-19: 86 home runs in 1,756 PAs (one home run every 20.4 PAs)
2020: 5 home runs in 100 PAs (one home run every 20 PAs)
2014-16: 40 extra-base hits in 503 PAs (one extra-base hit every 12.6 PAs)
2017-19: 200 extra-base hits in 1,756 PAs (one extra-base hit every 8.8 PAs)
2020: 11 extra-base hits in 100 PAs (one extra-base hit every 9.1 PAs)
2014-16: 33 walks to 126 strikeouts (3.8 strikeouts for every walk)
2017-19: 205 walks to 301 strikeouts (1.5 strikeouts for every walk)
2020: 13 walks to 23 strikeouts (1.8 strikeouts for every walk)
Again, the sample size is small, though it’s bolstered ever so slightly by his ridiculous Spring Training performance, when it seemed like he had more opposite field extra-base hits than at-bats.
It also helped that Ruf returned to an MLB landscape that had changed since he left it. In 2016, Ruf — a right-hander — had nearly twice as many plate appearances against right-handed pitchers than left-handed ones. Upon his return in 2020, that was reversed, with 65% of his plate appearances coming when he had a handedness advantage. On the one hand, that context helps explain his stats, and make it look less like improvement; on the other hand, it makes it look like Ruf’s game is more suited to this era than the previous one, and that provides some reason to expect his success to hold going forward. Value is value, whether it comes from an improvement in ability or from an increased understanding of how to properly apply that ability.
Either way, the combination of Ruf’s talent and the way he was deployed resulted in a stellar offensive weapon. Excluding some of his 2020 teammates, Ruf’s 143 OPS+ was the highest of any Giant with at least 50 plate appearances since ... Jarrett Parker in 2015.
I’m not sure that stat had quite the punch to it that I was hoping for.
Anyway, watch some highlights and marvel at the fact that I made it nearly 500 words into this article before making a diamond in the Ruf joke.
Role in 2021
Despite his terrific play in 2020, Ruf’s role isn’t guaranteed going forward. The potential loss of the designated hitter, and the shrinking of active rosters back to 26 players make it harder to find space for a defensively-challenged platoon hitter.
Still, Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris have shown a desire to fill the roster with good hitters first, and sort out the logistics later. I would expect Ruf to at least be given a chance to prove that 2020 wasn’t an aberration.
Choosing a grade for Ruf is subjective, because he had a limited role but excelled in it. You could give him an A for being a terrific platoon option, or a C for being a platoon option in the first place. For me it’s...
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