His journey to relief pitching for the Diamondbacks.
Jose Ruiz was born in Guacara Venezuela. In 2011, the Padres signed him as an international free agent for $1.1 Million.
Daulton Varsho wasn’t the first catcher to change positions. Jose Ruiz was a catcher until 2016 when the Padres converted him into a relief pitcher. They were impressed by his throws to second base more than his other skills. The next season, in July of 2017, he made his first appearance in the Majors – one inning pitched with no hits, one strikeout, and one walk.
In December of 2017, the White Sox selected him off waivers. He stayed a White Sox relief pitcher for 5+ seasons. Five seasons is more than the average Major league player, so from that perspective, his move from catching to pitching led to his great success.
He pitched for Venzuela in the World Baseball Classic. One highlight was he did not allow an inherited runner to score for team USA. Another highlight to tell his grandkids was that he struck out future Hall-of-Fame player Mike Trout. Mike Trout swung and missed at strike three.
In April, because injuries depleted their bullpen (Corbin Martin, Cole Sulser, and Mark Melancon), the Diamondbacks acquired him for cash considerations.
He pitched well until this season.
His best seasons were 2020, 2021, and 2022. With the caveat that Baseball Reference shows that he pitched much better in low leverage situations than high leverage situations, let’s look at his overall statistics.
The following table shows he pitched well enough to be a regular player in the bullpen in 2020, 2021, and 2022. His fastball averaged more than 95 MPH (this season at the 83rd percentile in the Majors), and his curve ball got a lot of whiffs (much more than other pitchers’ curve balls per Brooks Baseball).
Then 2023 happened. His ERA and FIP changed from good to bad. Let’s look at possible reasons.
The following table shows that his curveball gets an awesome amount of whiffs. Although in 2022 and 2023, curveballs were 29% of his pitches, in his first game with the Diamondbacks curveballs were 43.5% of his pitches. His first four pitches as a Diamondback were curveballs! Perhaps more frequent curveballs is one factor that will contribute to Ruiz’s results bouncing back.
The following table shows that this season his whiffs per pitch remained high, while his strikeouts per batter fell dramatically. Perhaps more frequent curveballs will cause more frequent strikeouts.
The following table shows that too many of his pitches were down broadway (center of the plate). Although his rate of homers on those pitches was better than Scott McGough and Carlos Vargas, there were too many down broadway and batters took advantage of them.
He fits in the Diamondbacks bullpen.
In the off-season, the Diamondbacks rebuilt their bullpen, with great results so far. Jose Ruiz shares characteristics that most of the rebuilt bullpen seems to share (high velocity fastball, high strikeouts per batter faced, high whiffs per pitch, and low ball-in-play per strike.
At 28.5 years old, Jose Ruiz fits well with the young Diamondbacks’ bullpen, with three pitchers older and four pitchers younger.
Perhaps something as simple as throwing less pitches down broadway could result in Jose Ruiz returning to his results of 2021 and 2022 (even if at the cost of a few more walked batters).
Because he has zero options, instead of making his improvements in the minors, he will make them in the Majors. Improving in the Majors is consistent with the Diamondbacks’ philosophy that improvement continues at all levels, including the Majors.