Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz stands in the dugout during...

Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz stands in the dugout during the first inning of a game in Miami. (Sept. 30, 2012) Credit: AP

Almost every free agent has the question attached to them: “Which version of Player X is their new team getting?” With Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz, that discussion is even more difficult than usual.

The good: Ruiz, affectionately nicknamed "chooch", played in 107 games every season from 2007-2012 and had an on-base percentage of .355 or better each season from 2009-2012.

But, notice “the good” stopped at 2012. And he’s going to be 35 at the start of next season. And he missed the first 25 games of the 2013 season after testing positive for a banned amphetamine. And he struggled at the plate, overall.

Ruiz’s .320 OBP and .368 slugging percentage were his lowest numbers since 2008.

His 25 percent caught stealing rate was below the 28 percent National League rate. It was also just the second time during the last five seasons that Ruiz had a rate below 27 percent.

Ruiz earned his highest yearly salary in 2013, taking in $5 million, and this offseason is probably his only shot at making “big bucks.”

A tough spot for a catcher in his mid-30s, right?

Maybe not.

Ruiz is not your typical “aging” catcher. He only broke into the majors when he was 27 and has caught just 790 games during his career. Brian McCann, a fellow free agent who will be 30 at the start of next season, has already caught 1,046 games. Jorge Posada caught 1,222 games after his age-34 season. Ruiz does not have the wear and tear on his body typical of a catcher his age. As such, he’s likely to be at least solid behind the plate for years to come.

Advanced defensive metrics generally grade him well. He had three defensive runs saved in 2013 and has six total during the last three seasons. His pitch blocking is highly rated, too.

There’s also reason to think his batting line will bounce back in 2014. For his career, Ruiz, a righty batter, has displayed about equal contact and patience when facing a righty or lefty pitcher. He has a .274 average and .354 OBP against righthanders and a .276 average and .369 OBP vs. southpaws. The split is most prominent in his .435 slugging percentage against lefties, which is 31 points higher than against same-handed hurlers.

But in 2013, Ruiz struggled against righties. He hit .a strong 300/.374/.463 vs. lefties but just .257/.301/.335 against righthanders.

Is that the sign of a developing trend? Not likely. It's probably just an ill-timed (for Ruiz) one-year aberration. Ruiz didn’t display any poor platoon split against righthanders in 2011 or 2012. Actually, Ruiz batted better when he faced righthanded pitchers both of those seasons.

Ruiz improved his slugging as the season went on, too. After posting a .291 slugging percentage in the first half (three extra-base hits, all doubles, in 127 at-bats), he had a .421 slugging percentage in the second half (18 extra-base hits, including five home runs, in 183 at-bats).

If you care about postseason performance, it’s worth noting that Ruiz is a .254 hitter with a .380 OBP and .408 slugging percentage in 172 playoff plate appearances. He helped the Phillies to a World Series title in 2008, going 12-for-46 (.260) with one home run, and was 15-for-44 (.340) with two home runs the following postseason, when the Phillies lost to the Yankees in the World Series.

In terms of “intangibles,” Ruiz is often described as a leader on his team. In terms of tangibles, his 1.7 WAR in 2013 was third among all Phillies hitters – despite Ruiz playing in just 92 games.

Here’s a breakdown of his 2013 stats and his cumulative three-year stats:

  2013 Three-year total
Batting average .268 .293
On-base percentage .320 .365
Slugging percentage .368 .432
Home runs 5 27
Plate appearances 341 1,234
Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference) 1.7 9.0
Passed balls 4 17
Caught stealing percentage 25% 27.4%
Defensive Runs Saved 3 6
Stolen base runs saved (rSB) -2 -3
Blocked pitched runs saved above average (RPP) 1.8 7.3

The Phillies have shown a propensity to bring back their own players (even when it may not be wise), and given the lack of catching talent in their farm system and the fact that they kept Ruiz for a bleak 2013 stretch run instead of trading him to a contender, the guess here is that he stays in Philadelphia.

*This is the first installment in a multi-part series examining players eligible for free agency this offseason.

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