One of the most significant moves the Chicago Cubs made during a quiet offseason was trade for outfielder Justin Ruggiano from the Miami Marlins. Ruggiano bats from the right side of the plate and was acquired for left-handed outfielder Brian Bogusevic. This trade was a no-brainer for the Cubs, as Ruggiano has a better MLB track record than Bogusevic and more importantly, he can platoon with Cubs left-handed outfielders Nate Schierholtz and Ryan Sweeney.
Both Schierholtz and Sweeney were minor acquisitions who paid dividends in 2013 and while they hold value as everyday starters, the Cubs can maximize the utility of these players by platooning them with an equally skilled player who hits from the opposite side of the plate. Ruggiano has a well-above average career OPS of .834 against left-handed pitchers in 353 plate appearances, compared to a below average .700 OPS against right-handed pitchers in 646 plate appearances.
Sweeney has a similar gap in his career split, though his numbers are not as favorable as Ruggiano, with a .609 OPS against LHP and a .750 OPS against RHP.
Schierholtz has the least drastic split of the three for his career, with a .683 OPS against LHP and a .752 OPS against RHP. Those numbers are much more pronounced when looking just at 2013 though, as Schierholtz had a .553 OPS against LHP and a .799 OPS against RHP.
It’s clear to see Nate Schierholtz and Sweeney have no business hitting against left-handed pitchers, and while Ruggiano can only fill in for one of these players at a time, he should be in the starting lineup every single time the opposition has a left-handed pitcher on the mound. During the 2012 season, Ruggiano put up a .909 OPS with 13 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 320 plate appearances and he did his damage against both left and right-handed pitchers, with an OPS of .806 against RHP and 1.129 against LHP. While Ruggiano is extremely unlikely to repeat those numbers, he has a chance to be adept against right-handed pitching if the Cubs want to keep his bat in the lineup.
Ruggiano has shown so far this spring that it would be wise to give him as many at bats as possible. He had an extremely productive day at the plate against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday, as Ruggiano went 2-2 with a home run, a double and a walk. Drawing walks is one of Ruggiano’s strong suits, with a nine percent walk rate the past two seasons. While he is prone to the strikeout, Ruggiano brings a combination of power and speed to the Cubs that is lacking on their roster. While he will most likely hit strictly against left-handed pitchers this season, Ruggiano has the upside to eventually take over as a full-time starter either in left field or center field at some point in 2014.