Carlos Ruiz's Curious Power Surge and Declining Walk Rate

Drew Hallowell

How rare is it to experience a career low in walk rate while simultaneously experiencing a career high in slugging?

As you have likely heard already, Philadelphia Phillies Catcher Carlos Ruiz has been suspended 25 games for using amphetamines. As a consequence, the legitimacy and merit of Ruiz's breakout season now seem largely suspect, especially with regard to the dramatic power spike he had exhibited in 2012.

To get an idea of how unique Ruiz's power surge was, I took a glance at all players who experienced a SLG spike of at least 29% compared to that of their previous three seasons. Ruiz hit for a robust .540 SLG in 2012, compared to a pedestrian .417 SLG over the course of his previous 3 seasons from 2009-2011. That caliber of 3-year to 1-year surge ranks 14th over the last decade:

Greatest 3Y-1Y SLG spikes since 2002

Name Year SLG prev_SLG SLG_jump
Javy Lopez 2003 .687 .433 1.59
Adrian Beltre 2004 .629 .421 1.50
Jose Bautista 2010 .617 .429 1.44
Carlos Guillen 2004 .542 .381 1.42
Brian Roberts 2005 .515 .365 1.41
Jack Wilson 2004 .459 .330 1.39
Jermaine Dye 2006 .622 .448 1.39
J.T. Snow 2004 .529 .384 1.38
Melvin Mora 2004 .562 .416 1.35
Bill Mueller 2003 .540 .405 1.33
Jason Bartlett 2009 .490 .369 1.33
Derrek Lee 2005 .662 .502 1.32
Sean Casey 2004 .534 .413 1.29
Carlos Ruiz 2012 .540 .417 1.29

To best resemble Ruiz's situation I limited the 3 year sample to those players with at least 1000 PA and at least 400 PA in year 4. In the interest of query speed I also required at least 100 PA in each of the previous seasons as well.

This is a very interesting group. Javy Lopez, for instance, has been "linked" to steroid use on more than one occasion. And certainly everyone remembers Jose Bautista's recent power surge in 2010, for which god knows he's faced his own share of PED suspicions. There were plenty of whispers of Melvin Mora's use and Brian Roberts, of course, made the Mitchell Report. Even Adrian Beltre's first "contract year" accusation came in 2004 when he hit some 20 HR more than he had ever hit previously. (Bret Boone and Barry Bonds make the list in 2001.)

So obviously power surges of this size hardly go unnoticed because they are so rare and so suggestive of wrong-doing. And Ruiz in 2012 wasn't really an exception. Today he has simply given all the PED Pessimists, both the practical and the paranoid, one more reason to doubt the next break-out. And that is terribly unfortunate for baseball.

But really what most intrigues me about Ruiz's now-tainted season is something Beyond The Box Score's very own Glenn DuPaul noted on Twitter: in addition to having a career high slugging rate, Ruiz's BB% also inexplicably plummeted from the typically excellent rates he owned in previous seasons. Ruiz averaged a walk rate of 11.7% from 2009-2011, but in 2012 that unexpectedly fell to an uncharacteristic below-average rate of just 6.9%.

Carlos Ruiz Walk Rate

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
BB% 11.8 12.4 12.7 10.2 6.9

In addition to being counter-intuitive, a dramatic loss of plate discipline side-by-side with a spike in power of this magnitude is also extremely rare. Consider that of all players to have experienced a power surge similar to that of Ruiz's season in 2012, his is one of only a handful of seasons to have seen such a tremendous drop in walk rate at the same time:

Greatest 3Y-1Y BB% drops with simultaneous SLG surge

Name Year BB% prev_BB% BB%_drop SLG_jump
Tim Foli 1976 2.8 5.7 0.49 1.27
Marty Cordova 2001 5.2 9.6 0.54 1.25
Carlos Ruiz 2012 6.9 11.7 0.58 1.29
Lou Whitaker 1982 7.75 13.0 0.60 1.28
Cal Ripken 1991 7.39 11.5 0.64 1.36
Melky Cabrera 2011 4.96 7.6 0.65 1.26
Pete Incaviglia 1993 5.22 7.9 0.66 1.31
Mike Kreevich 1944 6.12 9.2 0.66 1.33
Jack Wilson 2004 3.75 5.5 0.69 1.39
Bobby Grich 1979 9.69 13.8 0.70 1.42

min 1.25 SLG_jump 3Y-1Y.

Whether this has anything to do with Ruiz's use of amphetamines I can't say. But it is a rare enough of an occurrence that some may want to consider the possibility of some sort of a relationship. I'm not so sure that I am one of those people, but if you are, I am certainly not going to argue with you. What I am mostly curious about is if the readership has any suggestions as to what would cause this kind of phenomenon.

Why would slugging peak while patience slumps? Any ideas?

Tables made using the Lahman Database.

Follow @JDGentile on Twitter.

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