DFV Sleeper Series Part II: Darin Ruf
Welcome to Part II of the DFV sleeper series! (Here is Part I)
Next man up….
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Big & Tuf Darin Ruf
To state it plainly, Darin Ruf is going for under $5 in early Ottoneu auctions and I think he’s worth $10–20. Here, I tell you why.
Early in his career, Ruf showed some promise in Philadelphia, but after a lackluster 2014–2016 run that included various injuries, he went to the KBO for his 2017–2019 seasons and posted a .400+ wOBA (which seems good but I take all KBO data with a big pinch of salt). Upon returning to the MLB, Ruf inked a deal with the San Francisco Giants which just seems like a match made in heaven hindsight 20/20 and all. The new front office that is converting every crusty old vet into gold (Belt, Longo, Crawford, Posey) took a shot on Ruf.
Whatever magic Zaidi is casting over his players appears to have done the trick on Ruf. As a Giant, he’s posted a .383 wOBA and 143 wRC+ across 412 PAs boosted by profound improvements in the power and walks departments to the tune of a .243 ISO and 14.3% walk rate. His plate discipline appears to have improved as well with career-best O-Swing% / Contact% / SwStr%. Per Statcast over the same 412 PAs, Ruf has barreled the ball at a 12.9% rate with a .372 xwOBA along with a 93.1 mph average exit velocity in 2021 which ranked 13th in all of baseball tied with Juan Soto, Tyler O’Neill, and Sal Perez (albeit over a lesser sample size). Surprisingly, even with a high HR/FB rate, Statcast gave Ruf a -1 HR- xHR last season which could mean less power regression than some are expecting. 412 PAs is starting to become a solid sample size and this batted ball profile is outright impressive. Post-KBO Darin Ruf is starting to look legit.
If you ask projections, they aren’t buying into the new version of Ruf. Projections have been historically volatile when it comes to foreign professional league data, and I often avoid considering them too deeply. Ruf’s wOBA projections range anywhere between .324 — .335 hindered by a sub-200 ISO as well as a lower BB% and BABIP compared to his 2020–2021. This is one of the rare situations where I am willing to toss projections out the window. The KBO data isn’t useful and I don’t care to consider the pre-KBO data either because Ruf has looked like such an evolved hitter since then. All we are left with is a somewhat SSS of dominant PAs to gamble our hopes, dreams, and cap space on.
Despite my hype piece and Ruf’s recent 143 wRC+, he actually hasn’t produced any real value yet in Ottoneu or fantasy in general. His usage so far in San Francisco has been suboptimal for fantasy resulting in only 30 complete games out of his 62 starts and 112 of his PAs coming as a substitution. This translated into only a 3.93 points per game (P/G) and 4.66 points per start (P/GS) solely due to a low PA/G and PA/GS. The NL DH should be a game-changer for Ruf finally unlocking a more full-time role for him to unleash his fantasy potential.
In fact, I have Ruf as the single biggest value gainer from the NL DH. Another thing I believe the projections are missing the mark on is his playing time. Although I expect Ruf to get the majority of his playing time from the DH role, he seems capable of filling in at 1B and the corner OF spots where he posted a positive DRS in 2021 over 527 defensive innings. Projections currently have Ruf at anywhere from 328–417 PAs and only 96–117 games, but I think having the DH and assumed health will put him closer to 450–500 PAs with opportunity for more. All he needs is ~125 starts to pace for more than 500 PA. Ruf has earned full playing time vs LHP (152 wRC+ ‘21), and his 130 wRC+ vs RHP has been good enough to make it hard to ever budge him from the lineup. Although the Giants will find a way to pull production out of nowhere, there isn’t much competition evident on this roster to eat into Ruf’s playing time. Roster Resource has their next best bench options as Wilmer Flores and Austin Slater (although with more free agency ahead, this is subject to change…and hello Joc Pederson).
When all is said and done, I have Ruf as a $10–20 value with a projected wOBA range of .340–360 over 450 PA and I think he has a shot at 500+ PAs. I haven’t seen him go for more than $6 in recent auctions and can easily see double-digit surplus returns at that price with a chance at being a keeper for 2023 too.
P.S. Here is a random video of Darin Ruf taking the mound for the Giants last season.