Why is Darin Ruf still a Met? And what will they do at DH in 2023?
Player A has a career OPS of .866 against left-handed pitching, and an .891 OPS versus lefties over the past three years.
If you want to open up the hood for a Baseball Savant dive, this player’s wOBA against lefties since 2020 is .370. We could go on, but you get the picture: He hits lefties.
Player B has a career OPS of .763 against left-handed pitching, and an .843 OPS versus lefties over the past three years. His wOBA against lefties since 2020 is .333.
Both players are on the Mets’ roster. Want to guess which one is far more likely to take at-bats at designated hitter this season?
That would be … Player B. For sure. But why?
Player A is Darin Ruf. He struggled mightily after the trade deadline last season, and gets booed a lot. Player B is Tommy Pham, a nice free agent signing who figures to help the team on both sides of the ball and in the clubhouse -- but doesn’t have quite the history against lefties that Ruf does.
I looked up most of these numbers on Wednesday, when our SNY Mets Hot Stove show producer posed a simple question: Why is Ruf still on the team?
That, in turn, led to a broader inquiry regarding the Mets' designated hitter plans. Here’s where the reporting led: At no point this offseason were the Mets looking for a full-time DH, I was told. They didn’t want to plug up the spot, which would have prevented veterans and rookies from taking at-bats.
In the former category, Mark Canha, Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso will all need a break from the field at times, and the front office wanted to make sure that was possible.
As for the kids, the Mets want to give Francisco Alvarez, Mark Vientos and Brett Baty a chance to claim some DH at-bats over the course of the season. All of those players still have development benchmarks to hit, mostly on defense; because of that, they will not be given the chance to compete for the DH gig out of spring training.
The Mets' farm system has a long way to go before it produces players capable of helping the big league team all over the diamond, but does at least feature prospects with power, namely the trio listed above.
Because the team has potential home runs in its own system -- if nothing else -- its front office was focused this winter on acquiring pitchers and outfielders, not power bats.
For the slight majority of Mets games this year, left handed-hitting Daniel Vogelbach will serve as DH. In a typical season, a team begins approximately 65 percent of its games against a righty starter. Vogelbach posted an .830 OPS after the Mets acquired him last July; for a comparison, J.D. Martinez had a .790 OPS in 2022.
If Vogelbach remains healthy -- and that is key to the Mets’ plan for DH -- the team will use him against most righties, occasionally mixing in a McNeil and maybe Baty. From the right side, Buck Showalter can choose from Pham, Escobar and the occasional Alonso, Marte or Canha. Later in the season, he might have Alvarez and/or Vientos.
If the team wants to name Baty its third baseman down the line (player development folks don’t think he’s quite ready now), Escobar could grab more DH at-bats.
That covers just about everyone but Ruf. Remember him? Ruf is Player A from the beginning of this column who profiles as an ideal platoon DH, but likely won’t get the job.
Ultimately, PR does play into personnel moves. Baseball operations folks from all teams will say otherwise in public but concede the point in private. Ruf’s small sample slump last summer made him deeply unpopular among the Mets’ paying customers and delightful Tweeters, and cast his future with the team in serious doubt.
It would be much better for Ruf if the Mets moved on now, providing him the opportunity to find another team that has more at-bats to offer. But the team can and almost certainly will bring him to spring training, just to make sure that he can’t turn it around as a Met.
In truth, Ruf could probably help the team. But if the Mets trade or cut him in late March, they will still be left with numerous righty bats for that DH platoon -- which is how they envisioned the position from Day 1 of the offseason.