‘Big River’ should keep 3B job over Garcia

 

SAN FRANCISCO – Rio Ruiz will keep playing third base this weekend against the Giants while Adonis Garcia puts in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett. But Ruiz could, and I believe should, continue as the Braves’ primary third baseman even after Garcia returns from the disabled list as soon as Monday.

(Addendum: make that during Cincinnati series that starts Thursday, not Anaheim. Manager Brian Snitker announced before Friday night’s game that Garcia would be brought back at Cincinnati instead of Anaheim as they want to give him time to play 3-4 games and ease back into things and not aggravate his Achilles tendinitis.)

Rio Ruiz gets a high-five from Bartolo Colon after Ruiz hit a two-run homer off reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer on May 20. (AP photo)

Garcia, who’s been out 10 days with Achilles tendinitis, will be activated next week provided there are no setbacks. But let’s be honest: There’s no reason the Braves should continue playing the 32-year-old Garcia, who is not part of the long-range plan, ahead of the 23-year-old Ruiz, who is showing glimpses that he might be part of that plan or is at least the plan for the near future.

Let Garcia start against left-handers, whom the Braves are seeing infrequently this season, and serve as a bench player and pinch-hitter. It’s time to play Ruiz, who is a better hitter and brings more energy and enthusiasm to the team. “Big River” Ruiz has more than a terrific nickname – which he got in high school, when he was a standout quarterback and baseball player in Los Angeles – he has the ability to make fans care about his at-bats. Garcia does not.

Garcia has been the starting third baseman in 33 of 45 Braves games this season and is the primary reason for the following: Braves third basemen are in the bottom half of MLB in every major offensive statistical category including tied for 25th in OPS (.634), 25th in slugging percentage (.341), tied for 18th in homers (5), tied for 19th in RBIs (21), 29th in doubles (4) and tied for 26th in walks (12).

Turn the page. The Garcia era should be over.

(So should the Bartolo Colon era. But I fully understand why it might not be, at least for right now, since the Braves are paying him $12.5 million and there’s still a chance, however faint, that the 44-year-old could get things turned around, in which case DFA’ing him now could lead to the potential nightmare scenario of the Braves paying his remaining salary this season to see him pitching well for another team, perhaps a certain NL East team from Gotham that needs a new Dark Night and might at least try to revive a portly Big Bart.)

Anyway, back to the matter of third base….

It should be noted that two of the three teams that have fewer walks than the Braves at third base, the Brewers and Royals, each have more than twice as many homers from the position as do the Braves. Garcia doesn’t draw walks and doesn’t hit for much power. At least not by third-base standards. He just doesn’t provide much, so move on and see if Ruiz can.

If nothing else, playing Ruiz on a regular basis can give the Braves a better idea if third base is among the needs that must be filled next season.

Here’s why a platoon would make sense and strengthen the Braves bench – yes, that would mean dumping Emilio Bonifacio (2-for-24 as a PH with no walks, 6 strikeouts) or Danny Santana, but that move is past due with Boni anyway. Good guy, but not one tear would be shed in Braves Country.

At Triple-A this season, the left-handed-hitting Ruiz hit .282 with an .822 OPS in 103 at-bats against righties and had a .211 average and .560 OPS in 38 at-bats against lefties. So far with Atlanta this season, Ruiz struck out in his only at-bat against a lefty and has a .333 average and .907 OPS in 27 plate appearances against righties.

He’ll have plenty of time to hit lefties later this season or in the future; every aspect of the majors doesn’t have to be learned in a cram course, and if he wasn’t thriving against lefties at Triple-A there’s not much reason to believe he’ll make in-season strides facing far superior lefties in the big leagues.

Garcia, too, could benefit from the arrangement: He’s hit .230 with a puny .586 OPS in 128 plate appearances against righties this season, but has a .308 average and .976 OPS in 16 PAs vs. lefties. In his three-year career, Garcia has hit .255 with a .680 OPS in 676 PAs vs. righties, compared to an impressive .310 average with an .839 OPS in 229 PAs vs. lefties.

Garcia is a guy whose remaining major league career would be best served in a backup or pinch-hitting role where he can face mostly lefties. Might as well give  him a chance to play the final three-fourths of this season in that role and show how well he can do it.

As someone who’s been doing this a while, I am fully aware of the baseball axiom that many execs and managers like to follow: A player shouldn’t lose his spot because he got hurt. But Garcia wouldn’t be losing it because he got hurt. He’d be losing it because it was time for him to lose it anyway, before he got hurt.

Garcia’s .351 slugging percentage and .630 OPS are ranked last among 24 third basemen with enough plate appearances to qualify for rankings, and his .280 on-base percentage is next-to-last, better than only the Royals’ Mike Moustakas, who has 16 extra-base hits and 10 homers to Garcia’s seven extra-base hits including four homers.

There’s no reason to believe the 32-year-old is going to get much better than he was before going on the DL. He is what he is, a guy who came over from Cuba in his late 20s and spent three seasons in the Yankees organization without a major league call-up before the Braves got him and gave him his first big opportunity. People forget he was 30 as a rookie in 2015.

His OPS has gone from .790 in 198 plate appearances as a rookie, to .717 in 563 PAs last season, to .626 in 144 PAs this season before going on the DL. If you prefer WAR, his went from 0.6 in 58 games as a rookie, to 0.2 in 134 games last season, to minus-0.2 in 34 games this season.

It’s obviously a (very) small sample size, but Ruiz is 8-for-24 (.333) with a double, a home run, a .407 OBP and a .500 slugging percentage in seven games at third base. No, he’s not going to win a Gold Glove now or maybe ever at the position, but his defense is serviceable at the position, and Garcia’s isn’t a lot better with the exception of the plays charging in and throwing to first on the run, which Garcia does quite well.

There aren’t enough of those plays or enough difference in their defensive abilities to continue starting Garcia, who clearly isn’t part of the Braves’ long-range future, ahead of Ruiz, who could be, at least until one of the younger prospects is ready to step up at – or move over to – third base.

The Braves will play practically in Ruiz’s backyard when they face the Angels in a series starting Monday. Ruiz should continue as the primary third basemen for that series and until further notice, regardless of Garcia’s health. And not because it would give Ruiz’s family, friends and Orange County-based agent, Scott Boras, a chance to see him play.

He should be the third baseman because it gives the Braves a better chance to win.

• I’ll close with this one from the amazing Sly and The Family Stone, among the finest and most influential of the many, many great bands from San Francisco.

“FAMILY AFFAIR” by Sly and The Family Stone

Sly and The Family Stone

It’s a family affair
It’s a family affair
It’s a family affair
It’s a family affair
One child grows up to be
Somebody that just loves to learn
And another child grows up to be
Somebody you’d just love to burn
Mom loves the both of them
You see, it’s in the blood
Both kids are good to mom
Blood’s thicker than the mud
It’s a family affair
(It’s a family affair)
It’s a family affair
(It’s a family affair)
Over there, over there
Newly wed a year ago
But you’re still checking each other out, hey
Nobody wants to blow
Nobody wants to be left out, uh-huh
You can’t leave ’cause your heart is there
But, sure, you can’t stay ’cause you been somewhere else
You can’t cry ’cause you’ll look broke down
But you’re cryin’ anyway ’cause you’re all broke down
It’s a family affair
(It’s a family affair)
It’s a family affair
(It’s a family affair)
Oh, hey, a family affair
(It’s a family affair)
Ow
(It’s a family affair)
(It’s a family affair)
Oh
(It’s a family affair)
(It’s a family affair)
It’s a family affair
(It’s a family affair)
Well
Do-do-do-do
Hey-hey-hey
(It’s a family affair)
(It’s a family affair)

 

 

 

 


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