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Cynicism and the Miami Marlins' Justin Ruggiano

As part of our Designated Columnist series, Michael Bates pinch-hits with an article on Miami Marlins outfielder Justin Ruggiano and the cynicism surrounding his 2013 chances.

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As part of SB Nation United, you’re going to be seeing some new voices at Fish Stripes, SBN "Designated Columnists" writing about issues both local and national. Think of them as guests in the community. We’re beginning this week with Michael Bates, better known as one of the minds behind The Platoon Advantage.

I am immediately suspicious of the Marlins whenever they do anything, assuming that their moves are largely born out of incompetence or cynicism. I have the same problem whenever my beloved Twins make a move, fully expecting to hate it before I see it. That's a fault of mine, as I actually think the signings of Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle will turn out fine for Miami in the long run, but the Fish have given me and the good people of Miami-Dade County good reason to doubt them with their steady stream of fan abuse.

Case in point: When a Triple-A lifer like Justin Ruggiano has a randomly awesome four months, I brace for the inevitable announcement that he'll be the 2013 starter in left or center field. Don't get me wrong; it's not that Justin Ruggiano is a bad player. He's just not really a good one either. While he hit a tremendous .313/.374/.535 for Miami, that's a higher OPS than he's had in any minor league season he's had with more than 200 plate appearances since he was 23 and playing at Double-A Jacksonville. Now he's 30, and we can't be expected to believe that he's the new Manny Ramirez. Regardless of how he may have improved (and there's nothing in his underlying stats to suggest that he has), his .401 batting average on balls in play is going to crash.

That’s the crazy number, that .401 BABIP. It covers a lot of sins. It’s the fifth-highest mark since 2000 among players with more than 300 plate appearances. That in and of itself is pretty remarkable, but looking further down the list, you see luminaries like Chris Johnson (.387 in 2010), Jack Cust (.387 in 2010), Esteban German (.388 in 2006), Wilson Betemit (.391 in 2011), and Wily Mo Pena (.400 in 2006) in the top 25. Unsurprisingly, that top 25 saw its BABIP plummet in their follow-up seasons by an average of 61 points. Given that Ruggiano strikes out in over a quarter of his PAs, any regression he suffers is going to quickly make him into the new Chris Coghlan.

I don't want to be unkind; it's just that I've watched theTwins do this time and again with players like Brian Buchanan, Michael Restovich, Danny Valencia, Alexi Casilla, Clete Thomas, and more, players who leveraged even a few games of initial success into extensive playing time despite hundreds of minor league at bats that contradicted the narrative of that success, into extended auditions that wound up costing the team time and potentially treasure when those players had to be replaced in the middle of a playoff hunt.

Maybe that’s not actually a problem in Miami. Maybe a competitive team is once again at least a couple years off. But if that’s the case, does it really make sense to start from scratch with a guy who’s already 30 years old slated to play a major role? What possible benefit will that have to the Marlins in 2014 or 2015 when his bat is slower and he’s striking out even more and the magic BABIP fairy isn’t coming around anymore?