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What if Rio Ruiz could hit like he is now?

The Orioles best defensive infielder has started to hit, and all it took was for him to actually start swinging.

Houston Astros v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Jon Heyman blocked me on Twitter a couple of weeks ago.

He made some comment about how the Orioles shouldn’t be on the same field as the Yankees because the Yankees are good and the Orioles are bad, and I told him, verbatim, to “find a new schtick.” Should have been harmless, but the man is habitually hyper-sensitive.

The notion these “tank-jobs” aren’t “good for the game” is as lazy as it is commonality for the olds. Mike Elias, Sig Mejdal and the rest of the Orioles administration attempting to rewrite the wrongs of a patchwork regime isn’t bad for baseball. It’s necessary.

What people like Heyman don’t or refuse to understand, and what I myself have come to appreciate through the early stages of this process, is that teams like the Orioles provide opportunity. Though, as the 43-88 Orioles have come to show, the afforded chance to play major league baseball hasn’t been seized by many.

In terms of fWAR, former top prospect Chance Sisco has been the Orioles worst offensive player (-0.6) over the past month, striking out nearly as much as Chris Davis and with less power. Pitchers such as Tanner Scott, Evan Phillips, and Jimmy Yacabonis crashed and burned. Branden Kline is a good story with a flat fastball, and we found out exactly what Davis Hess is.

For all of the Tayler Scotts, there has been John Means. When higher expectations were placed on Sisco, out comes Anthony Santander. Heyman is far too nearsighted to realize the Orioles are interesting in their own way as they hope that value can be found when a surging minor league bridge is constructed.

And Rio Ruiz might have some tools to help build that bridge.

Ruiz seemed like nothing more than a pretty solid depth move when he was picked up off of waivers, even more so as a guy with an option still on his record. Having always been a low-strikeout guy with a plus-glove, Ruiz would have the chance to expand on a limited sample size of a pre-2019 sum of 195 major league plate appearances.

The first half of the season, Ruiz was drawing walks at a pace similar to the above-average rate he’d been known for, but there was a considerable lack of thump in his bat. Holding an ISO of only .092, the 25-year-old even spent two weeks in the minor leagues from July 25 to August 9 because of his offensive struggles. But since August 10, he’s nearly doubled his home run total on the year, and owns a 121 wRC+ since the start of the second-half.

Coupling his defense with a bat suddenly producing, it makes you wonder how valuable a guy that turned 25 in May could be if he could indeed start hitting that little extra. Ruiz, a typically patient hitter that doesn’t swing and miss often, also doesn’t make hard contact. His average exit velocity is in the bottom third of the league, with his expected wOBA and slugging numbers deep in the trenches.

But it seems as if that patient approach has begun to wear thin.

Looking at it from a broader perspective, this is the most he’s been attacking the baseball in his brief major league career. Even before he was sent down to Triple-A this was something that was starting to take shape, and he’s carried that same approach back to Baltimore.

It makes you wonder if the Orioles gave him some internal advice or if something in his own mind clicked, but I too would be swinging if I was seeing more hittable pitches over the plate.

His first-half heatmap is on the left, and his second-half heatmap is on the right. Rio is seeing a lot more of everything up in the zone, including breaking and offspeed stuff, and he’s done well enough to punish mistakes on the inner-half of the plate. His pull-rate has jumped from 38 percent in the first-half to 50 percent, and his line drive rate has naturally seen an uptick.

Ruiz’s, and for a guy that has a history lacking much exit velo, the signs are good. Though, it’s still early days.

A two-week stretch of hitting the baseball more consistently than most other two-week stretches is a normal baseball occurrence. Guys get hot and guys get cold because this game is played with a round ball and a round bat. Weird stuff happens.

But as it pertains to Ruiz, you want him to figure it out because there’s a different presence when he’s on the field. In terms of Fangraphs’ Defensive Runs Above Average, Ruiz is not only the Orioles best infielder but the team’s best defensive player. I think this is one of the rare cases where the numbers actually back up the eye-test, and that only reinforces the curiosity as to if he ever can ever really get it going.

We’re talking about a guy came into the season at 24-years-old and had less than 200 major league appearances to his credit. You never know if someone is turning a corner until you REALLY know, but pulling the baseball with more authority, a rise in fly balls, and a more aggressive approach are all things to keep an eye on.

So is this new aggression at the plate something he should maintain? I mean, he’s still walking at a rate just above league average while continuing to let it rip at the plate. He’s chasing more, sure, but he’s swinging and missing in accordance with his career ebb and flow. The Orioles are allowed to try new things, and so are guys like Ruiz.

Speaking purely in opinion, I don’t believe his career offensive output has ever really been a true indicator of his bat-to-ball skills, so maybe we’re seeing the kind of jump in production these rebuilds are designed to find.

A trustworthy third baseman with some pop? I miss that.

I’d like to see more of what he’s doing for a prolonged period of time, and surely everyone else does too. Still, for a team that’s 45 games under .500, it’s amazing what you can find interesting if you look further than the box score.