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2023 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews: #41, José Ruiz

José, can you see...

Arizona Diamondbacks v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Overview

  • Rating: 3.61
  • 2023 stats (AZ only): 33 GR, 1 GS, 40.2 IP, 2-1 record, 4.43 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, 0.0 bWAR
  • Date of birth: October 21, 1994
  • 2023 salary: $925K, first year of arbitration.
  • 2024 status: Minor-league contract with the Phillies

Vote breakdown

2023 in review

I’m going to be honest and say I was quite surprised to discover that Ruiz was among our top seven relievers this season, in terms of appearances, and that he was on the 26-man roster for more than half the season. I thought he was one of those bullpen arms who got rotated in and out, getting a couple of weeks at most. But he even started a game for the D-backs this season, in Cincinnati, which is more than can be said for, oh, Tyler Gilbert. You’d be forgiven why wondering why Arizona bothered, Ruiz getting off to a truly wretched start to the year on the White Sox. As in, nine earned runs over 3.2 innings in four games, for a 22.09 ERA. That’ll get you a quick trip to Destination DFA.

He had made the Opening Day roster there on the back of a good performance for Venezuela during the World Baseball Classic. He had five strikeouts over 4.1 scoreless innings in three games, including a big K of Mike Trout in the quarter-finals (below). He wasn’t able to translate that to success in the majors, but when the White Sox decided to cut ties, Mike Hazen dropped in, agreeing to a deal in exchange for “cash considerations” reported as $100,000. Ruiz had been solid over the previous four years out of the White Sox pen, with a 4.19 ERA (103 ERA+) from 2019-22, so Hazen was clearly hoping the pitcher was the victim of small sample-size this year.

At the time of the trade on April 9, barely a week in, the D-backs already needed relief help. They had lost two from their Opening Day bullpen: Cole Sulser to injury, with Drey Jameson taking over for Zach Davies in the rotation. Hazen clearly looked at the Reno options and was unimpressed, seeing in Ruiz someone who could help pick up the slack. The initial results were uninspired, the reliever allowing runs in each of his first two outings. But he and pitching coach Brent Strom made adjustments. Per Jack Sommers, “Strom worked with him to increase his extension... Strom credited the analytics department with feeding him information that he then was able to work with to make changes with Ruiz.”

As a result, over the next couple of months, Ruiz became a quietly effective member of the bullpen, at least in terms of ERA. In twenty games from April 19 through June 10, José tossed 23.1 innings at a crisp 2.31 ERA. Most were in relatively low-leverage situations. All told, only four of his thirty-eight appearances came with a lead less than four runs - and one of those was in the fifth inning. But someone still has to cover those frames, and despite a couple of road-bumps, he was generally reliable enough in that middle-relief role. Probably his best outing was May 14 against the Giants at Chase, where he tossed two scoreless innings in a tied game, including striking out the side on 11 pitches in the seventh (below).

Ruiz’s peripherals were not as shiny as the ERA. Even during the best spell, his fielding independent ERA (FIP) was close to a run higher, and this eventually caught up to him. Indeed, his FIP increased sharply as the strikeouts became rarer: the inning above was very much an exception. After June 10, he threw 15.1 more innings for Arizona, but had a very mediocre K:BB in them of only 11:7. With 20 hits, including four home-runs, the ERA began to trend in the wrong direction. The end as a Diamondbacks came when he was used as an opener on July 23 against the Reds. He allowed three runs on five hits over 1.2 innings, though escaped with a no decision.

The pitcher was out of options, and two days later, the team needed to make room for Merrill Kelly, who was returning after missing close to a month due to calf inflammation. Designating Ruiz for assignment was the chosen move, ending his time in Arizona with an ERA+ of 99. He went unclaimed on waivers and chose not to exercise his ability to become a free agent (a decision which would have cost him the rest of his 2023 salary). He instead returned to the Reno Aces, and worked out of their bullpen the rest of the year. In Triple-A he threw 26.1 innings, with a 4.10 ERA and a K:BB of 33:13, but with other, better options arriving like Paul Sewald and Ryan Thompson, Ruiz was no longer needed.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of Ruiz’s time was on July 6 at Chase Field, when he hit Mets’ catcher Francisco Alvarez with a pitch in the seventh inning of a 9-0 loss (above). Alvarez had homered earlier in the game off Ryne Nelson, and had gone deep in every game of the series, as New York swept Arizona, so it wasn’t a good look. The benches cleared in a low-key way, and the umpires warned both teams, though afterward, nobody seemed to make too much about it. Interestingly though, Mets’ coach Joey Cora had spoken to Alvarez and suggested he might be wise to tone down his home-run celebrations

2024 outlook

Arizona could have held on the pitcher, potentially for up to three further seasons, by adding him back on to the 40-man roster. But the D-backs decided to go in another direction, allowing Ruiz to become a free-agent on November 2nd. He did not stay on the market for long. On Monday of this week, he signed a minor-league contract with the Phillies, including an invite to spring training. He does remain out of options, however, so if he does make the big league club in Philadelphia next year, the situation will remain the same as it was in Arizona this season.