The Miami Marlins have their eyes set on 2013, and one of the players that will be critical to next year's plan is outfielder Justin Ruggiano. We have tackled the question of whether Justin Ruggiano can maintain his 2012 performance by looking at comparable players historically and by doing some simple regression to the mean, and all signs point to Ruggiano being able to at least keep up a league average batting line next season.
In looking at Ruggiano's season, you can certainly tell that his good fortune on balls in play is just not likely to continue. But looking at his performance since the month of June ended, you can see an alarming trend in his strikeouts that needs to be addressed and another trend in his power that needs to stick around for him to be successful next season. Much like Eno Sarris of FanGraphs mentioned in his article on Ruggiano, it seems the key for Ruggiano's future success will lie in just how much power he retains going forward.
Strikeouts In Bunches
One of the biggest factors of Ruggiano's future that has been hidden from sight due to his stellar performance on balls in play is his appalling strikeout rate. Since the start of July, Ruggiano has struck out 46 times in just 153 PA, a ridiculous 30.1 percent strikeout rate. That is almost as much as Giancarlo Stanton struck out during his rookie season, when his strikeouts were still a major question mark.Ruggiano's inability to avoid strikeouts seem to primarily be due to contact issues.
It seems Ruggiano has reverted back to his former, less selective self, but his major problem is that his rate of contact has been dropping dramatically. While in his first month, he had an easy time making contact on pitches, he has been slowly losing it both in and out of the strike zone as the year has progressed. The particularly alarming drop is the 70 percent contact rate he's made this month on in-zone pitches, as that would be easily among the worst in baseball if it stuck around.
There does not seem to be a change in the amount of pitches Ruggiano is getting in the zone, as he has hovered around 50 percent for much of the year. There is, however, a difference in the number of fastballs, of the two- or four-seam variety, that he has received, as the number has dropped in July and August.
|Ruggiano, 2012||Fastball Usg%|
It seems that perhaps pitchers have seen him as more vulnerable to the breaking stuff, and perhaps that has led to the increase in swings and misses.
So his BABIP has helped to mask that massive strikeout rate, as Ruggiano is still hitting over .300 (.305) despite whiffing in nearly a third of his plate appearances. But the other, perhaps more important thing that is helping to hide his weakness is the power surge. Ruggiano has posted a ridiculous .286 ISO this season, and that has not fallen too far in the last few months; Ruggiano has posted ISO of .340, .276, and .259 in June, July, and August respectively.
Ruggiano obviously will not need to hit a .286 ISO to stay useful in the majors, but just how much of his power is sustainable? His home run power appears out of the realm of expected outcomes. Currently, Ruggiano is hitting homers in 22.2 percent of his fly balls, which is just not likely to last; among qualified major league players since 2010, that mark would be on par with guys like Ryan Howard, Mike Napoli, and Jose Bautista. We can be fairly certain that will drop.
Ruggiano has also hit 17 doubles and one triple out of the 51 non-home run hits he has had this season. That is good for a rate of 35.3 percent. Ruggiano's doubles and triples accounted for 14.1 percent of all of his balls in play. Where do those numbers rank among the players of years past? No qualified player had that many doubles and triples out of their balls in play, and only three (Dexter Fowler, Andres Torres, and Joey Votto) even reached the 11 percent park since 2010. On a per-hit basis, only Torres had more than 35 percent rate, and Ruggiano would have ranked around guys like Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Quentin, and Scott Rolen.
Based on this, one would predict that Ruggiano could hit doubles at a similar rate, as his rate is the same as decent but not spectacular line drive hitters. But the home runs are certain to fall, especially considering the park in which Ruggiano will be playing half of his games.
We can get an idea of where Ruggiano may be by looking at his ZiPS rest-of-season projection. ZiPS is expecting five doubles in 51 balls in play for the rest of the season, a rate of 9.8 percent. Such a rate would be similar to ones put up by Rolen, Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, and Matt Holliday in the last three years. Out of his hits, ZiPS expects a rate of 29.4 percent of his hits to go for doubles, putting him closer to guys like Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer.
I think those names are more comparable in terms of the rate of doubles. With his home runs and BABIP sure to go down, the doubles rate is something to keep an eye on going forward to make sure he can maintain a decent line. ZIPS projects a very solid .187 ISO, and if he can produce in that fashion, the Marlins should have a league average hitter on their hands in 2013.