The Seattle Mariners, having already kicked off trading time by acquiring Welington Castillo last month, decided to reinvigorate the summer swapping season when they flipped Castillo and parts for Mark Trumbo and Vidal Nuno. With Jesus Sucre re-joining the big league team, someone needed to lose their spot on the active roster. And that someone turned out to be outfielder Justin Ruggiano.
The immediate reaction of most fans was a loud, collective “wait, what?” At the time, Ruggiano had a 99 wRC+, making him the team’s sixth-best hitter. He was generally regarded as one of the team’s top outfield options. This is a club that is carrying a precarious amount of dead weight. And yet they chose to do away with a seemingly useful player.
While we’ve been debating whether Rickie Weeks or Willie Bloomquist should be set free, the team was apparently doing their own evaluations. In their estimation, Ruggiano has the least to offer going forward. Is this dumb? Is their evaluation wrong? It seems like it at first, but perhaps we’re selling them short.
One thing you might not have known about Ruggiano is that he had the third-highest BABIP on the team. It’s nothing too spectacular at .317, but it goes to show that Ruggiano was one of the few guys who was getting the ball to bounce his way. All he was able to turn that into was a .214 average. With a BABIP that high you wouldn’t expect an average that low. It’s not a good sign.
On the flip side, Ruggiano was pairing that low average with a fine OBP, as his .321 mark was fourth on the team. That’s built on the back of a 13.6 BB% that was far and away the best on the team. Ruggiano’s patience at the plate was excellent, and effectively raised his floor to new heights. He was a safe player because of that walk rate.
The Mariners don’t care about that kind of stuff, is the perception. The M’s like all-bat, no-glove types, which by extension means they like all-SLG, no-OBP types. They looked at what they had, determined what they needed, and traded for Mark Trumbo, of all players. To see them jettison their most patient hitter isn’t surprising – it’s comically familiar. Remember John Jaso? Remember Michael Saunders?
What this largely comes down to is defense, and that’s where the Mariners seemed least happy with Ruggiano. Before the trade that bought him to Seattle, Ruggiano posted poor defensive marks for three straight seasons. The Mariners brought him aboard to do two things – hit left-handed pitching and play a little defense. Except he was miscast for this role. He’s not a good defender. Not like the Mariners know anything about defense, of course. They pretty famously don’t know anything about defense.
And he did one of those things! Against lefties, Ruggiano was hitting .263/.349/.474. That’s a 137 wRC+, and a 137 wRC+ is pretty fantastically useful. That, realistically, was the only thing the Mariners should have expected Ruggiano to do, and it was enough to make him a useful piece on a major league team. They weren’t pleased with him as a late-innings defensive replacement? Maybe they should try Nelson Cruz in that role and see how it works for them, then.
While the hit tool and the power were lacking, the lefty-mashing and patience should have been enough to make Ruggiano a useful player to have around for the duration of the season. The team didn’t like his mediocre defense, yet they’ll continue to play DHs in the outfield because they’re hitting above-average. This is a team with Dustin Ackley, Rickie Weeks, Willie Bloomquist, and backwards priorities.
Justin Ruggiano came to Seattle and played baseball the way he always does. The team that traded for him apparently didn’t know what they were getting themselves into, and when they realized that Ruggiano was the player that he is and not whatever the hell they wanted him to be they freaked out and bailed. The Mariners were wrong to get rid of Justin Ruggiano. He was not part of the problem, and the team is worse without him. At seven games under .500, the Mariners probably shouldn’t be focusing on getting worse, but here we are.