In 2020, the San Francisco Giants signed first baseman/outfielder Darin Ruf to a minor league contract and called him up. Ruf had come off three strong seasons in the Korea Baseball Organization, where he hit well for both average and power. Before his time in South Korea, though, he had been a below-average big-league player, both offensively and in the field. At best, he was a bench option.
Darin Ruf Returns to the Giants
He Came Off as a Late Bloomer
But his time in the KBO improved his game. On his return to MLB, he hit .276/.370/.517 for the Giants in 2020, and .271/.385/.519 in 2021. While his defense could have been more consistently strong, he did significant damage with the bat against left-handed pitching. This strong turnaround in the second half of his career motivated the Giants to re-sign him to a two-year, $6.25 million contract before the 2022 season.
2022 Wasn’t as Good
Ruf began the 2022 season as the Giants’ primary DH, the best spot to bat in. But things got complicated, and they moved things around. Overall, he hit .216/.328/.373 for the Giants last year, a significant regression from his former promising performance.
Did Ruf hit his full potential in 2022? Likely not. His ideal role is to start only against left-handed pitching, platooning with another player in the DH spot. Sometimes, that’s just hard to manage. But I don’t like “rotating” the DH spot daily. If there is to be a DH rule, managers should use it strategically. It has two good purposes: to keep poor fielders off the field and allow bat-first players to focus solely on their hitting. Thus, in Ruf’s case, looking at him as a good role player might be best rather than judging things from his overall statistics.
Joc Pederson is just as good of a fit for the spot. But it’s different from how he consistently hit it in 2022.
The Giants Traded Ruf at the Deadline
At the 2022 Trade Deadline, the Giants looked like fools. What was supposed to happen? They wanted to keep a balance between contention and preparation for the future. Yet it should have been evident that they couldn’t make the playoffs unless something drastic was done to reinforce their roster. So they lost in just about every sense of the word.
But the one thing they did calculate correctly was the Ruf for J.D. Davis exchange. The New York Mets were interested in Ruf as a secondary DH option. As a righty, he could work as a supplement to lefty DH Daniel Vogelbach. But, while Ruf hit a disastrous .152/.216/.197 for the Mets, Davis hit .263/.361/.496 for the Giants. In his first 13 games of 2023, he hit .341/.391/.659. Before getting too excited, remember that Davis’ 2023 number is a small sample size.
Ruf Returns to the Giants for 2023
Now, Ruf returns to the Giants on a minor-league contract after being released by the Mets. Don’t be discouraged that he underperformed in New York, even in his ideal role. After all, he had only 74 plate appearances. Remember that the Giants otherworldly 2021 season had optimal batter/pitcher matchups as one of its major components. Ruf was a significant part of that. He knew how to mash lefties.
Ruf’s Role with San Francisco
Pederson has already been established in the DH spot. Changing this would be disruptive to the Giants system. Unfortunately, since there’s only one such spot in the lineup, Ruf must play defense when he starts.
He can be highly productive if his at-bats are optimally leveraged. But we’re in luck. LaMonte Wade Jr. could use a platoon partner. If he and Ruf could share time at first base depending on whether a lefty or a righty is on the mound, the Giants will see a lot of runs contributed by both of them. And, since the first base is the most basic position, Ruf’s defense won’t sting too much, even if it’s below average. Every win the Giants add is a win closer to a postseason spot.
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