In Monday’s action, Carlos Ruiz was a major contributor to the Phillies attack in an 8-3 romp over the Pirates, going 3 for 5 with 3 runs scored and a stolen base. That performance pushed Ruiz’s batting average back above the .350 mark, just 4 points behind current NL leader David Wright.

So far this year, Ruiz is having one of the best seasons ever for catchers aged 33 or older. Ruiz was last batting below .300 on Apr 27 and, since racing past .350 with a 4 for 5 game on May 17, has been above the .350 mark on all but 5 days, and never lower than .344. Yet, it seems hardly anyone outside Philly has noticed.

After the break, I’ll take a closer look on what is so far a quite remarkable season.

These are the best qualifying seasons by OPS+ for catchers aged 33 or older.

Rk Player OPS+ Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Mike Grady 167 1904 34 STL 101 363 323 44 101 15 11 5 43 31 42 .313 .376 .474 .850
2 Carlos Ruiz 164 2012 33 PHI 65 237 207 30 72 17 0 9 39 15 26 .348 .418 .560 .978
3 Ernie Lombardi 162 1942 34 BSN 105 347 309 32 102 14 0 11 46 37 12 .330 .403 .482 .886
4 Gabby Hartnett 158 1937 36 CHC 110 405 356 47 126 21 6 12 82 43 19 .354 .424 .548 .971
5 Jorge Posada 153 2007 35 NYY 144 589 506 91 171 42 1 20 90 74 98 .338 .426 .543 .970
6 Roy Campanella 152 1955 33 BRO 123 522 446 81 142 20 1 32 107 56 41 .318 .395 .583 .978
7 Bubbles Hargrave 152 1926 33 CIN 105 366 326 42 115 22 8 6 62 25 17 .353 .406 .525 .930
8 Gabby Hartnett 151 1935 34 CHC 116 461 413 67 142 32 6 13 91 41 46 .344 .404 .545 .949
9 Elston Howard 141 1963 34 NYY 135 531 487 75 140 21 6 28 85 35 68 .287 .342 .528 .869
10 Mike Grady 139 1905 35 STL 100 351 311 41 89 20 7 4 41 33 44 .286 .360 .434 .794
11 Mike Piazza 138 2002 33 NYM 135 541 478 69 134 23 2 33 98 57 82 .280 .359 .544 .903
12 Wally Schang 135 1926 36 SLB 103 332 285 36 94 19 5 8 50 32 20 .330 .405 .516 .921
13 Carlton Fisk 134 1990 42 CHW 137 521 452 65 129 21 0 18 65 61 73 .285 .378 .451 .829
14 Carlton Fisk 134 1983 35 CHW 138 545 488 85 141 26 4 26 86 46 88 .289 .355 .518 .874
15 Gabby Hartnett 129 1934 33 CHC 130 487 438 58 131 21 1 22 90 37 46 .299 .358 .502 .860
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/25/2012.

And, by WAR.

Rk Player WAR/pos Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Elston Howard 5.3 1964 35 NYY 150 607 550 63 172 27 3 15 84 48 73 .313 .371 .455 .825
2 Jorge Posada 5.1 2007 35 NYY 144 589 506 91 171 42 1 20 90 74 98 .338 .426 .543 .970
3 Elston Howard 5.0 1963 34 NYY 135 531 487 75 140 21 6 28 85 35 68 .287 .342 .528 .869
4 Roy Campanella 5.0 1955 33 BRO 123 522 446 81 142 20 1 32 107 56 41 .318 .395 .583 .978
5 Gabby Hartnett 4.8 1935 34 CHC 116 461 413 67 142 32 6 13 91 41 46 .344 .404 .545 .949
6 Carlton Fisk 4.7 1990 42 CHW 137 521 452 65 129 21 0 18 65 61 73 .285 .378 .451 .829
7 Gabby Hartnett 4.6 1937 36 CHC 110 405 356 47 126 21 6 12 82 43 19 .354 .424 .548 .971
8 Javy Lopez 4.5 2004 33 BAL 150 638 579 83 183 33 3 23 86 47 97 .316 .370 .503 .872
9 Lance Parrish 4.3 1990 34 CAL 133 523 470 54 126 14 0 24 70 46 107 .268 .338 .451 .789
10 Jorge Posada 4.1 2005 33 NYY 142 546 474 67 124 23 0 19 71 66 94 .262 .352 .430 .782
11 Carlton Fisk 4.1 1983 35 CHW 138 545 488 85 141 26 4 26 86 46 88 .289 .355 .518 .874
12 Mike Grady 4.0 1904 34 STL 101 363 323 44 101 15 11 5 43 31 42 .313 .376 .474 .850
13 Bubbles Hargrave 3.9 1926 33 CIN 105 366 326 42 115 22 8 6 62 25 17 .353 .406 .525 .930
14 Ernie Lombardi 3.8 1942 34 BSN 105 347 309 32 102 14 0 11 46 37 12 .330 .403 .482 .886
15 Gabby Hartnett 3.8 1934 33 CHC 130 487 438 58 131 21 1 22 90 37 46 .299 .358 .502 .860
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/25/2012.

Ruiz is currently at 3.3 WAR less than half-way through the season, so he’s certainly on pace to top this WAR list by the end of the season.

Are you surprised? I was, until I saw this. For many of the catchers in the two lists above, their best OPS+ or WAR season was in these lists, as can be seen from the table below.

Age of Best Seasons for Selected Catchers

PlayerOPS+WAR
Bubbles Hargrave3330
Carlos Ruiz3131
Carlton Fisk2424
Elston Howard3435
Ernie Lombardi3430
Gabby Hartnett3629
Javy Lopez3332
Jorge Posada3531
Lance Parrish2626
Mike Grady3434
Mike Piazza2828
Roy Campanella2931
Wally Schang2631

 

Of the above 13 catchers, only two (Hartnett and Parrish) played 100 games before their age 24 season. So, let’s use that as our benchmark and see how the other catchers who did play 100 games before age 24 fared in OPS+ when aged 33 or older.

Rk Player OPS+ Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Gabby Hartnett 158 1937 36 CHC 110 405 356 47 126 21 6 12 82 43 19 .354 .424 .548 .971
2 Gabby Hartnett 151 1935 34 CHC 116 461 413 67 142 32 6 13 91 41 46 .344 .404 .545 .949
3 Gabby Hartnett 129 1934 33 CHC 130 487 438 58 131 21 1 22 90 37 46 .299 .358 .502 .860
4 Ted Simmons 126 1983 33 MIL 153 650 600 76 185 39 3 13 108 41 51 .308 .351 .448 .799
5 Yogi Berra 125 1959 34 NYY 131 521 472 64 134 25 1 19 69 43 38 .284 .347 .462 .809
6 Roger Bresnahan 125 1914 35 CHC 101 311 248 42 69 10 4 0 24 49 20 .278 .401 .351 .752
7 Lance Parrish 123 1990 34 CAL 133 523 470 54 126 14 0 24 70 46 107 .268 .338 .451 .789
8 Gabby Hartnett 114 1936 35 CHC 121 468 424 49 130 25 6 7 64 30 36 .307 .361 .443 .804
9 Benito Santiago 103 2002 37 SFG 126 517 478 56 133 24 5 16 74 27 73 .278 .315 .450 .765
10 Ivan Rodriguez 97 2006 34 DET 136 580 547 74 164 28 4 13 69 26 86 .300 .332 .437 .769
11 Ivan Rodriguez 95 2005 33 DET 129 525 504 71 139 33 5 14 50 11 93 .276 .290 .444 .735
12 Gary Carter 93 1988 34 NYM 130 503 455 39 110 16 2 11 46 34 52 .242 .301 .358 .659
13 Al Lopez 88 1943 34 PIT 118 428 372 40 98 9 4 1 39 44 25 .263 .341 .317 .659
14 Al Lopez 87 1942 33 PIT 103 332 289 17 74 8 2 1 26 34 17 .256 .338 .308 .646
15 Ivan Rodriguez 84 2007 35 DET 129 515 502 50 141 31 3 11 63 9 96 .281 .294 .420 .714
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/25/2012.

And, in WAR aged 33 or older.

Rk Player WAR/pos Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Gabby Hartnett 4.8 1935 34 CHC 116 461 413 67 142 32 6 13 91 41 46 .344 .404 .545 .949
2 Gabby Hartnett 4.6 1937 36 CHC 110 405 356 47 126 21 6 12 82 43 19 .354 .424 .548 .971
3 Lance Parrish 4.3 1990 34 CAL 133 523 470 54 126 14 0 24 70 46 107 .268 .338 .451 .789
4 Gabby Hartnett 3.8 1934 33 CHC 130 487 438 58 131 21 1 22 90 37 46 .299 .358 .502 .860
5 Ted Simmons 3.7 1983 33 MIL 153 650 600 76 185 39 3 13 108 41 51 .308 .351 .448 .799
6 Yogi Berra 3.7 1959 34 NYY 131 521 472 64 134 25 1 19 69 43 38 .284 .347 .462 .809
7 Bill Dickey 3.7 1943 36 NYY 85 284 242 29 85 18 2 4 33 41 12 .351 .445 .492 .937
8 Jim Sundberg 3.0 1984 33 MIL 110 395 348 43 91 19 4 7 43 38 63 .261 .332 .399 .731
9 Yogi Berra 3.0 1958 33 NYY 122 476 433 60 115 17 3 22 90 35 35 .266 .319 .471 .790
10 Ivan Rodriguez 2.8 2006 34 DET 136 580 547 74 164 28 4 13 69 26 86 .300 .332 .437 .769
11 Gabby Hartnett 2.7 1936 35 CHC 121 468 424 49 130 25 6 7 64 30 36 .307 .361 .443 .804
12 Gabby Hartnett 2.6 1938 37 CHC 88 353 299 40 82 19 1 10 59 48 17 .274 .380 .445 .825
13 Roger Bresnahan 2.6 1914 35 CHC 101 311 248 42 69 10 4 0 24 49 20 .278 .401 .351 .752
14 Ivan Rodriguez 2.5 2005 33 DET 129 525 504 71 139 33 5 14 50 11 93 .276 .290 .444 .735
15 Benito Santiago 2.4 2002 37 SFG 126 517 478 56 133 24 5 16 74 27 73 .278 .315 .450 .765
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/25/2012.

Hmm. A much less impressive list of seasons than for the catchers with later career starts. Lends more than a little credence to the notion that catchers have only so many games in them, regardless of when they start.¬†So, perhaps then it shouldn’t be a great surprise that Ruiz, who played his first game at age 27, is having a career year now.

So, how will Ruiz’s season end up? No guarantees, but his career splits give some optimism that he can finish strong. Ruiz’s best month is May and his worst is June, after which he gets progressively better the remainder of the year, with August and September close to his May levels. This was the pattern of Ruiz’s 2010 season when he hit .302 for the year, and has been the pattern so far this year, dropping from a 1.180 OPS in May to .845 in June. To be sure, Ruiz has benefited from a .369 BABIP which is probably unlikely to be maintained for a full season. That advantage is reflected in Ruiz having 33% more ground ball outs than fly ball outs, despite having 20% more fly balls than ground balls put in play.

Finally, should Ruiz win the NL batting title, he will be only the third 33+ year-old catcher to lead his league in batting,  joining Bubbles Hargrave (1926) and Ernie Lombardi (1942). Joe Mauer is the only other catcher of any age to win a batting title.

 

 

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