Buck Showalter needs to end the Darin Ruf experiment for the Mets

Buck Showalter needs to end the Darin Ruf experiment for the Mets


On Monday night, in the bottom of the eighth inning with two outs, the Mets trailing by four and the bases loaded, Buck Showalter sent Darin Ruf to pinch hit against Cubs’ lefty reliever Brandon Hughes.

The move was a fairly obvious one from a matchup standpoint. Subbing in the right-handed Ruf for Tyler Naquin, a left-handed hitter, was something most managers would do ten out of ten times. Given Ruf’s profile as a power-hitting lefty killer, it made sense to send him up there in search of a game-changing extra-base hit. Prior to the at-bat, Ruf was 6-for-17 this season when pinch-hitting against a left-hander. A base hit from him in that spot would have got the Mets right back in it, and a home run would have tied things up while making Showalter — and general manager Billy Eppler, who specifically targeted him at the trade deadline — look like geniuses.

Instead, Ruf fell into a 1-2 hole and looped a weak, humpbacked liner into right field that was caught for the inning’s final out.

“Darin has been really good in that spot in his career,” Showalter said. “It just hasn’t been there for him lately.”

The spot Showalter was referring to is the exact type of spot that the Mets acquired Ruf for. When the front office sent J.D. Davis and three minor leaguers to the San Francisco Giants on Aug. 2 in exchange for Ruf, they did so envisioning that he would continue torturing left-handed pitchers. At the time of the trade, Ruf had a .886 OPS against left-handed pitching in 2022. Pinch hitting him on Monday was theoretically a good process, but the result, yet again, was not what the Mets wanted.

This has become a theme with Ruf. Since Aug. 5, the day he played his first game as a Met, he has an unsightly .137/.179/.196 slash line (.375 OPS). He has 15 strikeouts to three walks in that time and is still searching for his first Met home run. He is currently mired in an 0-for-September slump, during which he has gone 17 at-bats without a hit and not reached base at all. While Ruf does not play every day, it’s still shocking to realize an established MLB player has not managed a hit or walk in nearly two weeks. The last time he stood safely on the bases was Aug. 31.

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In digesting all of that, as well as the importance of the Mets’ final 20 games, it’s time to face the music. This experiment hasn’t worked out at all, and it’s better to cut bait and admit defeat than hoping and praying Ruf can quickly figure it out. Since joining his new team, Ruf has had 38 plate appearances against lefties, the group he was supposed to terrorize. Those 38 plate appearances have spit out four hits, three walks and ten K’s. When facing a lefty with runners in scoring position, Ruf has a .091 batting average for the Mets. It is, simply put, going about as poorly as it could have.

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“It’s frustrating,” Ruf said on Monday when asked about his immense struggles. “But it’s baseball, so, it happens.”

On the flip side, Davis is raking. While these numbers are probably due, in some capacity, to the fact that he doesn’t play for the Mets anymore, Davis has a .797 OPS for the Giants since the trade. By wRC+, Davis’ change of scenery has made him 24% better than league average. Ruf, meanwhile, has a wRC+ of 7 with the Mets, meaning he is a mind-blowing 93% worse than the average hitter over the course of his brief tenure in Flushing.

“I understand how people like to dwell on one thing and rightfully so,” Showalter said while fielding a series of questions about Ruf.

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In the olden days (last year), Ruf’s spot on the roster could be justified by having him occasionally hit for the pitcher. With the universal designated hitter now in place — ironically, something Ruf probably thought would help extend his career — the Mets can’t even use him that way. That leaves very few situations in which it makes logical sense to have Ruf grab a bat. While the only way out of this is probably with more at-bats, not fewer, the Mets just cannot afford to wait for that breakout which may never come.

“I’m trying to have good at-bats,” Ruf said in his postgame scrum on Monday. “Sometimes you need a little luck. You need some soft contact to fall and you certainly need hard contact to find holes. When the two don’t line up, you can get on a little stretch where you make more outs than you want.”

There’s no more time to dwell, no more time to hope contact, hard or soft, finds some grass. As tough a pill as it may be to swallow, Ruf cannot be trusted in big situations right now. Moving forward, his main role should probably be giving Pete Alonso some rest days once the Mets are finally locked into their postseason seed.

Continuing to play Ruf seems like one of the most surefire ways to actively make that postseason seed worse.



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