WAR Zone: Run, run, Ruiz

How the stolen base gives one value-less player value.

Ruiz dives into second base as Andrus catches the ball.

I’m angry.

If you weren’t aware, the Oakland Athletics will relocate to Las Vegas in 2025. In a move downright encouraged by Major League Baseball, the A’s will leave behind the city they’ve called home for over five decades.

Truth be told, this move has been in the works for years. Regardless, their departure wholly disrespects a fanbase that still exhibits a serious passion for their baseball team, despite decades of neglect. The fans worshiped and loved them — until they couldn’t anymore.

Not only are A’s fans losing their team, but — unlike a sports movie — they’re not going out with a bang. I wouldn’t even call it a whimper.

As of July 3, they have the worst record in the league and are on pace for the worst run differential in modern history. Of course, the blame does not lie with the fans. Any money the team receives from people willing to sit in their black hole of a stadium goes directly into the owners’ pockets, not their checkbooks.

A’s fans have searched for hope, and they can’t seem to find it. But that’s where Esteury Ruiz comes in.

Ruiz has turned the stolen base into a tool of fear. Whenever he reaches first (something that, unfortunately, does not occur that often), the threat of Ruiz taking second occupies the mind of the pitcher, the catcher and surely everyone else in the stadium.

Ruiz currently leads Major League Baseball with 42 steals. Last year, the Marlins’ Jon Berti led the league with 41. Ruiz matched that before June was over.

If he keeps up his current pace for the rest of the year, he will finish with around 82 steals. Nobody has stolen that many in 35 years. Even the 70-steal mark hasn’t been reached since Jacoby Ellsbury in 2009.

Of course, Ruiz benefits from several new rules meant to bolster stolen base numbers, but that shouldn’t overshadow the incredible work Ruiz has done for an offense that, unsurprisingly, struggles to score. His occasionally ill-fated efforts to steal an extra base give the A’s a chance they wouldn’t usually have.

As I said, Ruiz doesn’t actually get on base that often; his on-base percentage is 111th in the league. He’s not the absolute fastest, either. That may be why he also leads the league in times caught stealing (8).

I don’t think he cares. He’s going to try his hardest to steal second base, even if he gets thrown out. Why is that? Because it effectively turns every single — or walk — into a double. And a double is better than a single. Way, way better.

However, despite all those steals, Esteury Ruiz is not a good baseball player.

Actually, that might be an understatement. He’s just plain bad. Not only is he a below-average defender, but his average exit velocity (speed of the ball off the bat) is the lowest in the league.

In baseball, the goal is to hit the ball hard. And he is literally the worst at it.

His Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a stat meant to measure a player’s value, stands at negative 0.1. A WAR of zero would mean that Ruiz has provided the same value that an average minor leaguer would provide if given the same number of opportunities.

So, yes. Technically, Ruiz shouldn’t be in the majors. But these are the 2023 Oakland A’s. Calling them a Major League Baseball team already feels wrong.

Symbolic, isn’t it? The team’s only source of hope hurts them in the long run — just like how hope from the fans, no matter how much they want it to, won’t save their franchise.

But that’s what’s so interesting about Esteury Ruiz. He doesn’t need to be good at “baseball.” He can provide a positive impact by being good at one thing, and one thing only.

At the end of the year, fans across the league will have to stare up that stolen base leaderboard. And there’s a solid chance an Oakland Athletic comes out on top. To these Oakland fans, that would mean everything.

The league announced the All-Star rosters on Sunday, and unfortunately, Ruiz failed to make the cut. However, a couple of American League outfielders who made the team remain on the injured list and may still be there by mid-July. With enough luck, Ruiz may find himself in Seattle a week from now.

But as I’ve been saying, luck hasn’t been on the side of A’s fans for a while now. In 2025, when this team is finally ripped away from them, they can thank those money-hungry robbers who reside in the owner’s box.

Because even with all those steals, Esteury Ruiz is not the biggest thief in Oakland.

“WAR Zone” is a column by Dominic Varela about some of his favorite stats in baseball and the wacky stories they tell us that runs every Monday.