What a time to be alive. And right now, quite thankfully.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, I assume my comings and goings have been fairly similar to most of you, in that there hasn’t been many of either. Being a single guy, my quarantine lifestyle has boiled down to limited consistencies, the highlights including my MLB The Show 20 Diamond Dynasty team reaching unprecedented heights and a lot of time spent with a soon-to-be eight-month-old Shepsky named Wyatt.
Yeah, you try kenneling that face during the day after weeks of working from home.
As a result of the circumstantial changes to our everyday lives, the sudden return of Orioles baseball does create a sense of needed normalcy. Sixty games isn’t much, but it is something. You don’t need me to tell you that the Orioles are going to struggle over these limited number of games, because the current roster construction just isn’t at a level conducive to long-term success, even in a 60-game season. The O’s are still in the earlier stages of figuring out what they have.
The COVID-stricken 2020 schedule is going to affect the Orioles more than most, considering much of the franchise’s more regarded talent won’t be getting game repetitions at any point this summer. A current big league roster devoid of hardly any long-term contributors will remain as such a little bit longer as a result of the 7-2 offsuit the world has been dealt.
Trey Mancini, Anthony Santander, John Means, and Austin Hays are on a shortlist of players who’ve done enough to remain as hypothetical future pieces. If I may, I’d like to add Rio Ruiz to that list, that being on a conditional basis.
Ruiz was given his first real opportunity to play as a regular lineup fixture in 2019. A dismal first half was met with a Triple-A demotion, but Ruiz’s final weeks offered encouragement. He walked more, struck out less, and showed more sustained pop, as a first-half 69 wRC+ was elevated to 97 wRC+ in the latter-half of last season.
As well, Ruiz’s pull rate jumped substantially (53.3 percent from 38.3 percent) during the final months, even overcoming a 58-point decrease in his BABIP to be a more sustained offensive threat.
Ruiz finished the 2019 season with a .232/.306/.376 line, while only managing 0.2 WAR. That initial look doesn’t do much to leverage his position within the organization, but you can’t help but wonder if he ever really figured it out at the plate, because his defense is often overlooked. I wrote about Ruiz’s second-half nearly a year ago, and I maintain much of what I thought then as I do now. If he can continue to create offensive numbers trending upwards, then you’re likely looking at the most obvious in-house candidate to remain at third base.
Thus far, Ruiz is doing all he can to take advantage.
Including last night, Ruiz is 2-13 to start the new season, both hits being home runs. I get it, a .167 average in four games isn’t much, but four games worth of plate appearances doesn’t mean much anyway. What’s more interesting is that Ruiz has a much different demeanor at the plate than he did in year’s past. He’s made actual changes to his swing, discussing the topic last week with the media.
[My swing] is definitely different than last year. I don’t think I was intentionally trying to [change anything]. It was just a comfort thing that I felt that allowed me to be in position more frequently, and it has.
You can watch the entirety of the discussion here.
It was a solid notice from Orioles reporter Joe Trezza, as it’s become evident that Ruiz does look noticeably changed in the batter’s box.
Below we have 2019 Ruiz. He’d utilized a narrow, inactive stance that didn’t really create much sense of rhythm in his swing.
His hands were late to load and he wasn’t generating much power with lazy leg lift. He just seemed to be a little less synced than capable.
The above took place in May, prior to his midseason demotion. As the summer progressed however, you could see that there were changes taking place. Fast-forward to one of the Orioles’ few moments of glory in 2019, and you can see Ruiz had slowly adapted some new ideals.
The ever-satisfying walk-off home run off of Roberto Osuna took place in the middle of August, marking three months of what appears to be integrated changes to Ruiz’s plate approach. What’s amazing is we’re nearly a year later, and Ruiz has had plenty of time to turn these changes into muscle memory.
This above is Ruiz on opening day. Much more open and athletic in his base, Ruiz’s hands look to be more tightly wound, while his upper body appears to be working more in unison with his lower half. The result:
Unfortunately, we haven’t been given the chance to see more of a side-by-side view in order to get a more definitive look at his newfound way of attacking the baseball. Even so, a 26-year-old Ruiz has and is making wholesale changes to his swing, and early on, Ruiz already has a third of the number of barrels (two) than he did in all of 2019 (six). Striking the baseball with more force more often will inevitably produce better results, making Ruiz ever the more intriguing.
I’m just as excited as the next person to see Ryan Mountcastle make his way to Baltimore, along with his other younger, more polished farmhands. But it does seem important to occasionally remind folks that there are interesting pieces currently on this team that are worth keeping an eye on. Ruiz and his new swing meet that criteria.
And to Mo Gaba...Rest in Peace.