Washington Nationals Player Profiles: Keibert Ruiz

As we approach the start of the 2024 MLB season, let's take a closer look at the players who will be key contributors to the Nationals this season.

Washington Nationals Workout
Washington Nationals Workout / Rich Storry/GettyImages

In March of 2023, the Washington Nationals signed catcher Keibert Ruiz to an eight year, $50 million contract. The 25-year-old has displayed incredible bat-to-ball skills in his first three seasons as a National, which is a large part of why the Nationals initially targeted Ruiz in trade talks. Ruiz was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the 2021 Trade Deadline.

While the 2023 season wasn't the most productive for the Nationals, Ruiz was productive both as a hitter and catcher. Keibert hit .260 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI, ranking 14th in home runs for catchers in the MLB, according to fangraphs.com. Keibert increased his home run total by 11 from the 2022 season. The increase in power for Ruiz was noticeable and impactful in the Nationals' lineup. Ruiz's 10.3 strikeout percentage was first among all qualified catchers in the Majors in 2023. The young catcher had some notable highlights at the plate in the 2023 season, including a walk-off home run against the Oakland Athletics.

What was a tad disappointing about Ruiz's 2023 season was his defense. His caught-stealing percentage dropped from 28 percent in 2022 to 15 percent in 2023. While his fielding percentage remained steady at .991, his effectiveness behind the plate suffered due to his inadequate framing skills. It's a trait that Ruiz spent the offseason working on due to its importance for pitchers, with the big change being that Ruiz now sets up on one knee instead of the traditional stance in hopes of controlling the bottom of the strike zone better. Ruiz ranked tenth among qualified catchers in defensive runs saved(DRS) at -14, according to fangraphs.com. It's safe to say that Keibert's defense took a step back in the 2023 season.

What's the next step for Ruiz? Development of patience at the plate and more consistency behind the plate. The lack of strikeouts at the plate for Ruiz is great, but, it's a product of impatience. Ruiz's walk rate is a mere 5.5 percent, ranking among the worst in the Major Leagues for qualified catchers. Keibert tends to be too active early in at-bats, sometimes resulting in poor results. Ruiz is a power threat at the plate, but a patient hitter is much more dangerous. We will take strike one if it means we get a better pitch later in the at bat. Unfortunately, this is a Nationals-wide issue as that is the Darnell Coles approach. The Nationals had one of the worst offenses in baseball last season.

Not to make excuses for Ruiz, but I believe the pitch clock hurt his defensive prowess. The pace of Major League Baseball was unlike ever before, and it took players time to adjust. Base-stealing timing is completely different and rules favor the baserunner. Ruiz should better understand the game speed after a full season under the rule changes. Look for Keibert to improve the little things behind the plate this season, but the pitch framing is the primary aspect of his defense to monitor.

I believe the Nats have tremendous talent in Keibert Ruiz and think he will take the next step towards being an elite catcher in the 2024 season. Ruiz has talented bat-to-ball skills, notable power, and top-tier defensive talent. It's easy to write that Ruiz puts it all together, but only time will tell if the 25-year-old catcher lives up to the contract the Nationals signed him to. My predictions for Keibert Ruiz in the 2024 season are as follows: 140 games(110 as catcher, 30 as DH), .273 avg, .335 OBP, .425 SLG, .760 OPS, 23 home runs, 75 RBI, 47 BB, 73 SO, 23 doubles, 19 runners caught stealing, .994 fielding percentage, 2 DRS.