Last month the Rangers signed Justin Ruggiano to be the right-handed bat this team needed now that Mike Napoli defected to the Indians. According to reports, he will play mostly left field, being the right-handed tandem to lefty Josh Hamilton. And he will occasionally play some at first base to be the right-handed half of Moreland.
One flaw with that logic: Hamilton hits lefties better than Ruggiano in most cases.
So if the Rangers picked up Ruggiano to platoon with Hamilton, they got a player who is actually a downgrade from the original.
In four of his seven major league seasons, Ruggiano has batted less than .225. To put that in Rangerese, Leonys Martin’s lifetime batting average is .255; Ruggianos is .256. In roughly the same amount of at bats.
Of course, Ruggiano’s career numbers reflect batting against right-handers, which he struggles mightily against. He was brought in to hit lefties.
But it’s worth noting that there is a left fielder already on the Rangers who hits lefties better than Ruggiano. His name is Josh Hamilton.
And, funny thing about Ruggiano: he hits better in games where he starts against right-handed pitchers than he does in games where he starts against left-handed pitchers (this includes all subsequent at bats he gets in those games). In games started by righties, he hits .260 with on OBP of .324. Games started by lefties, .251/.316.
In total at bats against left-handed pitching, he hits .272, just .246 against right-handed.
That .272 career average Ruggiano sports against left-handed pitching is a whopping .002 points higher than Hamilton’s career average against southpaws.
Production wise, against lefties in all situations, Ruggiano hits a home run every 19.2 at bats, and notches an RBI every 6.8 at bats. With Hamilton, it’s 21.4/5.2. Ruggiano does have some pop.
Even when you look at the all-world stat OPS, Ruggiano isn’t an upgrade over Hamilton. In games started against left-handed pitchers, Hamilton’s on-base plus slugging percentage is .845. Ruggiano’s is almost one hundred points lower at .746.
All of this suggest two things:
One, it’s smarter not to start Ruggiano against left-handers but rather to pinch hit him in select situations (but you also run the risk that the manager will just make a pitching change and he’s hitting a right-hander, in which case you’d be better off letting Darvish bat.)
Two, if you are going to platoon him with someone, it should be Moreland, not Hamilton.
Ruggiano’s .272 average against lefties compares to Moreland’s .233. Ruggiano’s not-all-that-impressive .251 when starting a game against left-handers compares to Moreland’s .235. Moreland hits a home run every 41.5 at bats against lefties, and drives in a run every 8.4 at bats (Ruggiano, if you recall from three paragraph’s earlier, is at 19.2/6.8).
He fills a specific role. But is Ruggiano the impact right-handed bat the Rangers are lacking?
The Rangers will be his sixth team in eight seasons. If he is that impactful, it makes you wonder why the other five teams let him get away.