The Philadelphia Phillies have already lost Carlos Ruiz for the first 25 games of the 2013 season due to a suspension for using Adderall. The effect of Ruiz’s suspension depends on a combination of a few factors: how well his replacements perform, how well 34-year-old Ruiz can perform when he returns and whether he can keep himself out of trouble.
Most teams do not have the luxury of having a top tier offensive catcher like San Francisco Giants‘ Buster Posey or Minnesota Twins‘ Joe Mauer. Last year the Phillies did and Ruiz had his best season in his six-year career with a .325 AVG / .394 OBP / .540 SLG with 16 HR and 56 RBI over 114 games. Over a 162 game season, those numbers expand to about 20 HR and 72 RBI, which is a great season from a catcher. Obviously catchers don’t ever play all 162 games, but it’s merely a frame of reference.
Who will replace good ol’ Chooch behind the dish? A platoon including Phillies prospect Erik Kratz and former Houston Astro Humberto Quintero. What can we expect from these two?
Quintero is 34 and in his nine-year major league career, he has played 422 games (47 per year) spread out among five organizations. He has a career .234 BA, strikes out in 20.5% percent of his at bats and has never hit more than four HR in one season. Not really the type of numbers that get people excited. He’ll likely be a warm body with Major League experience after Ruiz comes back, injury insurance.
With career lines as dismal as those the lions share of those 25 suspension games will go to 32-year-old Kratz. If Kratz can get hot early, he may start a surprising number of games for the Phillies, based on Ruiz’s performance and how the team fares in the standings. Odds are that won’t happen though, but given that his 33rd birthday is in June, it stands to reason that if he is going to have one good major league outburst, it is probably now or never.
Of course where the Phillies rely on Chooch most is behind the plate. He is one of the best defensive catchers in Major League Baseball. In that respect, it is possible that the Phillies pitchers may struggle out of the gate without the steady Chooch behind the plate. That is the biggest concern for the Phillies this year. They can’t afford a slow start with the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves stocked up for title runs in 2013.
I do not see Ruiz as a repeat offender. He was banned for taking Adderall, which is a stimulant that helps you concentrate, so obviously you can see why MLB would ban it. He seemed contrite and up front in his apology and is beloved by the fan base, which I believe will be sufficient motivation to keep him out of trouble. In fact I could see him training his ass off just to prove that he doesn’t need Adderall to mash the ball.
Barring injury I think what we’ll see is Chooch play in his career average of 118 games. He usually plays about 72% of his games and 72% of 137 games is 118, right on par with his career average. Kratz will pay 45-50 like last year and Quintero will pick up the rest. Unfortunately catchers get hurt all the time, so I’d expect to see at least one of these 32+ year olds to go down. Let’s hope the injury bug doesn’t spread again this year, or the Phillies could be in a world of hurt.