Marlins Should Play Justin Ruggiano Full Time

Earlier this week, we spoke a little about the Miami Marlins' Justin Ruggiano and his small sample size success. I am not one to jump on small samples and proclaim excellence, but Ruggiano's amazing 100-plus PA have yielded enough sample to presume he is a decent major league ballplayer and worthy of a starting spot in place of the injured Giancarlo Stanton.

Using these above rates, we can construct an estimate of Ruggiano's true talent level. If we take those rates and fill in a batting line for him, we would estimate that Ruggiano has a true-talent level of .261/.322/.445, To get an idea of what that batting line is worth, players with similar batting lines in 2012 include Justin Morneau(.257/.318/.450, .327 wOBA) and Nelson Cruz (.262/.318/.433, .324 wOBA). As a corner outfielder and occasional (and decent) center fielder, that sort of projection is not bad at all.

With Ruggiano's expected numbers being comparable to decent major leaguers and his current numbers being so red-hot, it seems obvious that the Marlins should play him full-time while Stanton is injured to see what they have in the 29 year-old outfielder.

But unfortunately, that has not been the case. Since Stanton's injury and the return of Emilio Bonifacio to center field, Ruggiano has split starts with another, far inferior player rather than playing everyday. That player? The #mostinterestingmaninbaseball, Greg Dobbs.

Comparison

Ruggiano and Dobbs thus far have been in a platoon situation for the last seven games. Ruggiano made only one of four potential starts versus right-handed pitchers in the last seven games, presumably because the team wanted to keep the lefty bat of Dobbs with the platoon advantage.

The problem with that is that, even as currently projected, Greg Dobbs is worse against righties than Justin Ruggiano. Here are the numbers:

Player, ZiPS ROS Proj. AVG OBP SLG wOBA Proj wOBA vs. RHP
Greg Dobbs .263 .305 .356 .288 .290
Justin Ruggiano .264 .320 .450 .335 .326

Look at Greg Dobbs's projected numbers, and look at Ruggiano's. Both are projected to have similar batting averages, except Ruggiano is expected to draw more walks and hit for a lot more power. Essentially, Greg Dobbs is expected to have an empty .263 batting average, while Ruggiano has displayed enough discipline at the plate and power to pump up his line and become a useful contributor.

Now wait, you might say Greg Dobbs is not as bad as this projection has him. Last season, he hit .275/.311/.389, and this year he has followed it up wtih a .301/.331/.384 line! The batting averages sound appealing, but it turns out both of those lines end up as a .305 wOBA. Even if you took Dobbs's true talent as a .305 wOBA hitter (equivalent to such 2012 luminaries as Darwin Barney and Willie Bloomquist), you still would not expect Dobbs to be a better hitter versus righties than Ruggiano. In the end, Ruggiano is simply a superior hitter.

The difference on a game-to-game basis between the two players is probably small. Assuming four PA in a game, Ruggiano is expected to be 0.12 runs better than Dobbs per game.

Defensive Mishaps

That issue is further compounded by the fact that Ruggiano is a capable outfielder defensively while Greg Dobbs is not a capable defender anywhere. Dobbs is a first baseman mostly by trade, but he has been passed off as a third baseman primarily in the past. His work at third base has been sub par; UZR has him at seven runs worse than average per season. Naturally, knowing this, the Marlins decided to move him to the corner outfield to see if they could fit his "professional" bat elsewhere. It has not taken much time to realize that he is not an outfielder either.

Without looking at any numbers, it seems safe to say that Ruggiano is conservatively 15 to 20 runs better in the outfield per season over Dobbs, meaning that in any given game, he would be costing the Marlins an additional 0.12 runs on defense per game.

Conclusion

In total, we would expect Dobbs to be a quarter of a run worse than Ruggiano per game. If, in the next month or so, Dobbs and Ruggiano split playing time or had a more traditional 65/35 platoon split, the Marlins would be losing anywhere between three to five runs in the next month. Again, these are small losses, but up to half a win in 24 games would be difficult given the team is already losing 1.5 wins above replacement while Stanton is out with injury. It tacks on further damage to an already wounded team.

The Marlins have an infatuation with Greg Dobbs, but with Justin Ruggiano, they potentially have a real major-league contributor. Ruggiano's extremely hot start has the Marlins in the justified position of playing him everyday to see what they have in him. The team's next series starts tonight against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the club will face all right-handed starters. All the reasoning in the world suggests Ruggiano should make all of those starts.

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