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The Confounding Esteury Ruiz

Oakland Athletics v Minnesota Twins
At this, Esteury Ruiz excels.
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

How exciting, in a season short on fun and success, that on the season’s final day Esteury Ruiz needs one stolen base to accomplish what no other player in MLB history has and that is to steal 67 bases in his rookie season.

Imagine what it would be like if Ruiz were actually a good player!

Sadly, the current iteration of Ruiz is more of a “one trick pony” who runs roughshod on the bases — that is, when he can get on base and when he isn’t caught stealing as he has been 13 times and that’s not even counting the pickoffs.

When scouting “legend” Keith Leipmann told the front office that Ruiz was “the most complete player in the minor leagues,” his colleagues must have replied, “Keith, it’s time to retire.”

Because the problem Ruiz faces, as he tries to develop into a big leaguer worthy of being a trade centerpiece in a Sean Murphy deal, is that he only excels in one area (being really fast) while failing in almost every other aspect of the game.

The A’s have said that for 2024 they want Ruiz to focus on shortening his swing and on drawing more walks. These are two excellent goals, but what troubles the Eyeball Scout is that as the season has progressed Ruiz’ swing has actually gotten longer and his plate discipline worse.

Stats are inconclusive on the latter, as his BB rate is right around 4.0% both first and second half. However, the K rate has jumped from 18.4% to 25.2%.

If you prefer the “glass half full” view of Ruiz, there are reasons to hope for his development into an impact player. After all he is already a bit of a terror on the bases, he has shown a knack for knocking hits around with RISP, and he is new to the outfield where his deficiencies could be attributed to “learning on the job”.

If you like the “half empty” approach, though, you can have a field day. Ruiz is sorely deficient in almost every facet of the game that doesn’t require him to steal a base.

With a slash line of .254/.308/.346, that .308 OBP stands out for a player whose value relates strongly to his ability to reach base. It is dragged down by a wretched BB rate of 3.9%.

Here are some areas in which Ruiz ranks in the single digts of percentile in comparison to his peers:

exit velocity (1st %ile)
hard hit %: (1st %ile)
BB rate (1st %ile)
xSLG (2nd %ile)
xISO (2nd %ile)
barrel pct (4th %ile)
xOBP (9th %ile)

Meanwhile, in the outfield Ruiz also ranks at the bottom of the league with a DRS that is a rather stunning -21, with an UZR/150 in CF of -12.7. He has made 7 errors, the 7th one coming last night when he bobbled a base hit and let it scoot by him.

Imagine how bad Ruiz would be if he wasn’t “the most complete player in the minors” last year.

So how do you fix a player with a BB rate under 4.0%, an OBP that is hovering right around .300, an ISO of less than .100, poor reads, poor routes, a long swing, and a complete inability to hit the ball hard?

Perhaps you begin by emphasizing swinging less and becoming far more discerning about when to swing at all. Then you have to figure out how to help a guy simply hit the ball harder when he hits it. Is there a different bat size or weight that could help? Is there a swing path, a hip torque, a strengthening regimen, that can magically turn a 1%ile into something passable?

Defensively, if Mark Kotsay can’t help a CFer I’m not sure who can but should we face the possibility that Ruiz is an infielder whose move to the outfield was a “nice try”? Sadly, the one position he knows best, 2B, is taken for the foreseeable future and his skill set doesn’t really suggest his glove or arm would play well at 3B (where you don’t really pine for a hitter with an .092 ISO).

Honestly, I don’t have many answers as to where you go from here to try to get Ruiz to become the player A’s scouts thought — for reasons that are hard to grasp — he was. Rookies do make breakthroughs in their second or third year, though. It’s just that Ruiz has to make so many of them in so many areas that you have to squint hard not to see a “Rajai Davis like” 4th OFer who is fun but not actually very good.

He is part of what will make 2024 interesting to watch, as his development could go a long way to helping the A’s get back to competitiveness sooner. I may not be ready to bet on him, but I know I’ll be rooting hard for him.