Colby Rasmus, Enigma

The Toronto Blue Jays season is a two-part story. What began as a pleasant surprise quickly descended into a lucid, waking nightmare. Two Blue Jays’ outfielders heading into free agency embody each of those characteristics. While Melky Cabrera is putting together a brilliant platform season before heading to free-agency, Colby Rasmus seems to have spent all the good will he earned with his strong 2013 campaign.

Rasmus, as you probably know, was terrific last year. He hit 23 home runs and posted nearly 5 WAR in just 120 games. He looked every bit the future star the Blue Jays thought they had when they acquired him at the 2011 trade deadline. Unfortunately for Rasmus, his 2014 looks much more like his forgettable seasons in the woods following his 2010 breakout as a 23-year-old in St. Louis.

The soft-spoken Jays center fielder has long been a magnet for criticism and scrutiny, due in no small part to his frank father/coach/mentor and to the personality clashes with his former manager and Hall-of-Famer, Tony La Russa. On the field, Rasmus is a devoted tinkerer at the plate and the author of wildly divergent periods of production.

Rasmus has essentially played his way out of a qualifying offer with Toronto and his interest in leaving his team is a poorly-guarded secret on the Blue Jays beat. As he heads into life as a free agent, it’s hard to know what the future holds for Rasmus — or to even accurately pin down the type of player he’s become.

Broadly put, the 28-year-old outfielder is a league-average defender with above-average power and below-average contact skills. His walk rate is on the decline and he increasingly looks incapable of handling left-handed pitching or playing 150 games a year.

At some point in 2013, Rasmus seemed to simply sell everything out for power. He looked to yank fastballs at every opportunity. He even crept way up in the batters box, seeming to dare opposing pitchers to throw their heat. This made him vulnerable to back-foot sliders, decent changeups from right-handed pitchers and anything up in the zone.

It’s a strange mix, a package that should be more valuable than it is, a player with skills in demand who also counts a strange mix of players of his statistical peers.

Colby as B.J. Upton

B.J. Upton is the owner of one of the least-desirable contracts in baseball. It’s a deal the Atlanta Braves surely wish they could do over. As players, Upton and Rasmus have a lot in common: They’re both high strikeout players with nice pop who hit free-agency at a relatively young age.

Source: FanGraphsB.J. Upton, Colby Rasmus

Upton is a $75 million red flag for any team that might look to sign Rasmus in the off-season. Perhaps another season on par with his 2013 campaign might put him into position for this type of payday, but Rasmus can likely only dream of a commitment of this size.

Colby as Chris Young

Chris Young is the version of Colby Rasmus that should keep him up at night. Young was a fine center fielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks right up until he wasn’t. Blame it on a severe shoulder injury. Blame it on the shorter shelf life for this type of player, but Young’s career arc went from “promising” to “tragic” in a hurry.

Through their age-27 seasons, Young and Rasmus produced at similar clips in similar ways, when we consider league-wide shifts in walk and strikeout rates.

Chris Young 3588 132 112 10.0 % 22.7 % .198 .329 95 16.2 14.4
Colby Rasmus 3018 114 28 8.6 % 25.0 % .191 .326 102 14.4 13.2

Young is currently a free agent, released by the Mets in the midst of a one-year, $7.2 million contract. Is Rasmus due to fall off such a steep cliff?

Colby as Carlos Gomez

Hey, so here’s a stretch! Carlos Gomez didn’t become the MVP-candidate we know and love today until after he signed a reasonably-priced contract extension with Milwaukee. After years of coaches forcing him to slap the ball, the Brewers freed Gomez to swing for the fences. The strategy has produced great results. Gomez doesn’t walk much but his power and ability to make hard contact offsets his strikeout rate. He’s also a superlative outfielder and base stealer, with many highlight-reel and game-saving catches to his name.

Rasmus has long been empowered to bring Gomez’s approach to the game, he simply hasn’t had the results to back it up. Probably because he isn’t as talented.

Colby as Michael Saunders

Injury prone? Check. Middling results? Check. Made big-league debut in 2009 and plays similar position? Check, check.

Michael Saunders hasn’t shown himself to be an everyday big leaguer so far in his career, as injury and poor performance kept him off the field for huge chunks of the past five seasons. When he’s on the field and he’s healthy, he’s about as good a player as Rasmus. This is not a particularly flattering comparison for either player, though Rasmus at least has more reps at the big league level. Over the past three seasons, they’re close to identical players.

Colby as Curtis Granderson

Another player with better results than Rasmus, though one who plays with a similar style. At 28, Curtis Granderson put together a strong season in his final year as a Tiger before a trade sent him to New York. As a Yankee, he blossomed into a Three True Outcome star, hitting 40 home runs twice and producing the best years of his career.

Perhaps this is a path Rasmus could follow, working under the tutelage of an understanding hitting coach in a situation ideally suited to his skills and to his swing. As noted above, Rasmus has made countless changes and adjustments to his swing and approach during his time in Toronto, none of which truly unlocked the potential so many saw in the sweet-swinging outfielder.

Colby as Jim Edmonds

There are fewer left-handed, power-hitting center fielders than you think. Jim Edmonds was a considerably better hitter than Rasmus through his age-28 season (120 wRC+ compared to Rasmus’ 102) and then he turned himself into a borderline Hall-of-Famer. His walk rate shot up and his power went through the roof. Maybe a change of scenery could benefit Rasmus the same way? Perhaps some magic beans and a coalition of deities coming together could make this pipe dream a reality.

As the Blue Jays fumble their way through the final month of the season, they have many questions to answer as they look to 2015. Will Rasmus be a part of their future? Replacing a player with obvious flaws should be easy but he’s an unusual sum of some strange parts. There aren’t many center fielders in recent memory with his skill set, how the free-agent market values those skills should be fascinating to watch.

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Drew used to write about baseball and other things at theScore but now he writes here. Follow him on twitter @DrewGROF

39 Responses to “Colby Rasmus, Enigma”

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  1. Big Jgke says:

    As a Jays fan, what I’ll miss most when Colby gets his inevitable overpay from some other organization, is hearing his unintelligible southern drawl on local radio ads for shady car dealerships.

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  2. DanBC says:

    Colby, grow up, your 28……tell dad, politely, to go home and mind his own business. Most players leave dad’s bad advice by the time they are 15…….his dad is a big reason that Rasmus is messed up, too much conflicting advice

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    • My echo and bunnymen says:

      I would say most at 15 tend to just ignore their father’s advice instead of “leaving” it. I’ve never really flat out ignored my Dad’s advice at at his age but I do just take it as advice instead of truth.

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    • Steve says:

      that’s incredibly unfair, you can follow his father on twitter and see his opinions on a lot of things, he’s a very bright man and has almost no involvement with Colby and his professional career, unless asked, and it’s been that way for years.

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      • But... says:

        “you can follow his father on twitter”

        …but why would you?


        F.P. Santangelo’s third cousin, twice removed (follow me! Please!)

        (I mean, really. Following a ballplayer’s dad on Twitter = mankind has officially run out of actual problems to tackle and we’re just drowning in meaningless minutia.)

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      • DanBC says:

        Im sure his dad is, but, a son has to become his own man, on his kwn. No matter how well meaning, a dad more often than not, gets in the way. “Too many cooks”……

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  3. gandriole says:

    I could see him succeeding in Oakland.

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    • Spit Ball says:

      Perhaps if he got some $6.99 shades from the local dollar store and grew an off centered goatee on his face like his pops his game would come around. Maybe he just needs a “One on One with the big man in the sky.”

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    • james says:

      why, he has above average power and contact issues, that would mean less homers and the big fly ball area would hurt even more if he fouls off something

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  4. Mix says:

    Great writing!

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  5. Bad Bill says:

    So how much of this do you think St. Louis foresaw when they made the trade that left everyone thinking how brilliantly AA had performed in taking them to the cleaners?

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    • Steve says:

      I don’t think anyone thought that, St. Louis probably doesn’t win the WS that year without the contributions from Jay + everyone received in that trade, no? The Jays made off very well in that trade too. Really seems like a perfect trade for both sides.

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      • Felix says:

        Bad Bill is probably referring to the time period after the trade but before the crazy championship run. The vast majority of fans then thought Toronto made out like bandits in that deal. In retrospect, things look better for the Cards so it’s an interesting question whether there was foresight on the part of Mozeliak or if he just lucked out. Probably a little of both.

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    • Drew Fairservice says:

      Rasmus produced 6+ WAR for the Jays and cost, what? Jason Frasor, Rzepczynski, Zach Stewart, and Corey Patterson? That’s still pretty good.

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      • Anon says:

        Rasmus Blue Jays value of ~6.0 bWAR, ~5.6 fWAR (plus his RoS value)for ~$14.3M (Rasmus salary 12-14). The Blue Jays saved some money in 2011 comparing the contracts of the other players in the trade, but the Cardinals got 0.7 bWAR more than the Blue Jays from the non-Rasmus players in 2011 regular season. The Cardinals also recieved compensation draft picks for Dotel and Jackson.

        So, 5 to 6 WAR for ~$14M and two draft picks. Not a loss for the Blue Jays, but certainly not the steal that people expressed at the time of the trade.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        I’m not sure which way is the best way to look at it from the Jays’ perspective. On the one hand, if you look at his overall numbers since the trade then yeah, they got a good value from a WAR/$$ perspective.

        On the other hand, he was sub-replacement for the rest of 2011 after the trade, he was below average in 2012, and he’s been below average in 2014. Other than 2013, when his defense and BABIP were out of line with the rest of his career, he hasn’t been someone you want in the lineup every day.

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        • Steve says:

          who cares what he did the year he got traded? If the Jays cared how well he played then they probably would have been doing well enough to not trade a bunch of their players to get him.

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        • vivalajeter says:

          Ok, let’s ignore his horrible performance after the trade. He hasn’t been worthy of putting in the lineup 2 out of 3 years, instead of 2 1/2 out of 3 1/2 years.

          And if you want to think about ignoring his poor performance, then who cares what he did in 2013 when his team came in last place? They would’ve been better paying the league minimum for a replacement level player, and gotten a better draft pick out of it.

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  6. Yunel's Eye Black says:

    Colby as Cletus

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    • Descalzo Jose says:

      From that youtube clip above I’me getting more of a Boomhauer vibe. DangolunintelligiblebaseballcarsalesmanItellyouwhat

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  7. Mike13 says:

    I have been very disappointed in colby as a jays fan this year

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  8. Sofa King says:

    Played much better with corn rows

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  9. BlueJays93 says:

    I love his defense. Rasmus is great to watch from the outfield seats, and I’ve always had a good feeling about him being successful when faced with balls just beyond his reach. Unbelievable feline instincts, then he’ll get up like cat on all fours.

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  10. danny c says:

    How about Texas signing him and pairing him up with Colby Lewis?

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  11. Mike Green says:

    Where is Billy Martin when you need him? If ever there was a player who needed Billy Martin, it would be Rasmus.

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