When the 2023 season began, the SF Giants had a surplus of first base/DH types with Joc Pederson, Wilmer Flores, and J.D. Davis. However, Davis has found a home at third base, which could help the Giants find a way to keep Darin Ruf.
Could J.D. Davis improved defense help the SF Giants keep Darin Ruf?
Ruf, who is in the middle of a rehab assignment, should be eligible to return shortly. The Giants signed him to a minor league deal at the beginning of April after being released by the New York Mets. San Francisco wasted no time in adding him back to the active roster.
It was expected to be a short-term addition given that the Giants were slated to face a slew of lefties and that Ruf just does not have a position to play. That could change thanks in part to Davis' defense.
The 30-year-old has been solid at the hot corner, posting +2 Defensive Runs Saved, +1.1 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), and +4 Outs Above Average (OAA). Regardless of the metric, Davis has been an above-average fielder and the eye test confirms this as well.
His emergence from defensively-limited position player to a power bat who can handle third base opens up some options for the Giants. When the Giants face a right-handed pitcher, Pederson will likely be slotted in at DH and LaMonte Wade Jr. will be penciled in at first base.
However, when they face a left-handed pitcher, there is an opening. Flores will fill in at either first base or DH, but the other spot remains open with Davis likely playing on the other side of the field.
The lineup against lefties has been a weakness for the Giants as they have tallied an 81 wRC+ in those matchups, which is the seventh-worst mark in baseball. Of course, the recent returns of both Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater should help them in that area.
However, they could want more help and Davis moving across the field opens up a spot, which leads us to Darin Ruf. The right-handed bat is coming off of a down year in 2022 as he registered a .204/.307/.338 (89 wRC)+ with 11 home runs, 45 RBI, and 52 runs in 388 plate appearances.
His value comes from his bat and he just did not hit enough last year. Though, he was still a quality bat against southpaws as he posted a .753 OPS against them in 183 plate appearances. This continues a trend that has been present throughout his career. Against lefties, Ruf has a stellar .886 OPS across nine seasons.
That is the type of production that will get you into the lineup. Can he still produce at that level? That remains to be seen, but if Ruf continues to give the Giants leverage in those matchups, he could sneak into the lineup.
The veteran bat has added six hits, including two doubles, in 23 at-bats in 2023. It is a small sample, but bat still flashed some upside even if in a niche role.
Editor's note: Ruf was designated for assignment on Tuesday morning.