Colby Rasmus Turns Back the Clock

Even after their big offseason moves, the Blue Jays were not the consensus pick to win the 2013 American League East, as three or even four teams seemed to have a good shot. Very few, however, probably thought the Jays would be the one team left out of the race almost from the start. Yet here we are in the middle of August, and Toronto is the only team in the division under .500, a distant seven and a half games behind the fourth-place Yankees. The litany of problems is well-known: the starting pitching has been terrible, Jose Reyes got hurt, and more. Not every player has been disappointing, however. Colby Rasmus, who came to the Jays in a 2011 trade with the Cardinals, is having his best season since 2010. Indeed, his performance this year resembles that 2010 season in multiple ways.

Rasmus (currently recovering from an injury) was the Cardinals’ first-round draft pick in 2005, and by 2009 was considered to be one of the best five prospects in baseball. Although he struggled with the bat during his 2009 debut, an 89 wRC+ was not bad for a center fielder in his age-22 season. In 2010, Rasmus really took off at the plate, hitting .276/.361/.498 (130 wRC+). If his strikeout rate (nearly 28 percent) was scary and his BABIP (.354) appeared unlikely to continue, they were seemingly outweighed by an excellent walk rate (11.8 percent) and power (.222 ISO).

Things fell apart remarkably quickly for Rasmus in St. Louis in 2011, though. Rumors went back and forth about Rasmus’ disagreements with coaching staff, for example. Looking back, while Rasmus was actually in St. Louis in 2011, it was not as if he was terrible: his power and BABIP regressed, but he retained his 2010 walk rate and cut his strikeouts. Rasmus had a .246/.332/.420 (110 wRC+) line in St. Louis during 2011 — not what was expected after 2010, but not bad for a 24-year-old center fielder (for the purposes of this post, we’ll focus on his hitting). But the situation had soured, and the Cardinals pulled off a four-for-four trade with Toronto that centered around Rasmus.

Toronto seemed like a good landing spot for Rasmus, as the organization was developing a reputation for gathering players with latent power (Jose Bautista being the most prominent example). Those who thought a fresh start would revitalize Rasmus were disappointed though, as Rasmus was absolutely dreadful (.173/.201/316, 33 wRC+) over his 140 plate appearances in 2022 with the Blue Jays. It was a small sample, and the hope was that it was mostly random variation and adjustment to a new environment. It had to be true to a certain extent — it was very unlikely Rasmus was a 33 wRC+ player. His overall line for 2011 ended up .225/.298/.391 (89 wRC+), but given his age, past performance, and simple regression, there was the hope that Rasmus would improve in 2012.

He did not, and over 625 PA, Rasmus had the worst full season of his career — .223/.289/400 (83 wRC+). His strikeout rate was poor, but it was not much worse than his final 2011 rate. However, his walk rate was the lowest (7.5 percent) since his rookie season. His power was still good (.177 ISO), but is was not great, and was hardly enough to make up for his poor walk and strikeout rates. Some of his issues might have been attributable to poor BABIP luck (.259), but that was only slightly lower than 2011. Moreover, it was the third time in four seasons that he had had a low BABIP. It was not as if it was a mystery, either: starting in 2011, Rasmus had begun hitting a high proportion of infield fly balls, which is often the root of a low BABIP. Coming into 2013, Rasmus was no longer thought of as the gifted young hitter still working out the kinks. If “bust” was too strong of a word, 2010 was beginning to look more like an exception than the norm.

Rasmus’ 2013 has put the bust talk to rest for the moment. Still in his age-26 season, he is recalling his 2010 breakout at the plate, hitting .273/.335/.478 (122 wRC+). Although 439 plate appearances is still just a partial-season sample, it has understandably revived the hope that Rasmus’ abilities are those of an above-average player. The question is whether this represents the “real” Rasmus, or if this season and 2010 were exceptional, luck-based breakouts. The easy, and probably best, answer is that Rasmus’ true talent is probably between this year’s performance and his 2011 performance. Let’s take a bit of at specific similarities between 2010 and 2013.

Just as in 2010, Rasmus is succeeding despite a very high strikeout rate. Rasmus’ current 30.1 percent strikeout rate is the highest of his career; the second highest is the 27.7 percent in 2010. His 2013 isolated power is .205, his highest since 2010. His .363 BABIP in 2013 is also the highest of his career, the second-highest being .354 in 2010. In his other three seasons, his BABIP has not risen above .282.

Not everything is the same for Rasmus as in 2010, though. He has always been below average when it comes to making contact, and this season he has the lowest contact rate of his career, thus the high strikeout rate, even for him. Although he is swinging at fewer pitches than in the past, his walk rate is still low at eight percent, just barely better than last season’s career low. A high strikeout rate and low walk rate are difficult to overcome.

Despite those issues, Rasmus has been productive this year because when he does put the ball into play, it has gone for a hit more often than usual. Leaving home runs aside for the moment, most would agree that few players have a true talent .363 BABIP, and Rasmus, given his past history, is not one of them. This reveals a similarity and a dissimilarity with his 2010 performance, neither one very encouraging. The similarity is that in both seasons he had a high strikeout rate and a high BABIP. The dissimilarity is that in 2010 he had a low rate of infield fly balls, while in 2013 he has almost as high a rate of pop-ups as in the previous two (poor) seasons. Rasmus’ high BABIP in 2013 seems even less attributable to BABIP skill than it was in 2010.

With his plate approach being more problematic than ever, and his BABIP being mostly luck-based, Rasmus does have one true strength at the plate: power. The gains here are promising. Although his rates of doubles and triples on hits in play is higher than last year, it is not quite as high as in 2011, which was not a great season. That is not really good or bad news, though, since doubles, in particular, do not correlate very highly from year to year. The reason Rasmus’ power surge this season is promising is that it is mostly based on home runs. His rate of home runs on contact (6.7 percent) is his best since, you guessed it, 2010 (7.2 percent).

One can look at the projections now and after the season to see what those systems think. Again, it seems likely and sensible that they will see his true talent as lying between 2013 and 2012. That is not all that surprising or interesting in itself. There are two specific things worth noting, though.

First, the return of Rasmus’ power this year reminds us that something done at a young age (his age-23 performance) holds promise down the line. Yes, his power went dormant to an extent in 2011 and 2012. Random variation plays a part in every season, but although every player ages differently, it is still fair to expect a young player’s true talent to continue to improve. If Rasmus was a bit “lucky” with respect to his power in 2010, it still reflected his underlying true talent, and we are seeing that again this season — and it is not all luck this year, either. It was fair to expect that Rasmus still had some potential even after his dreadful 2011 and 2012 seasons, and the Jays are being rewarded for their patience.

Second, the Jays still probably need to be cautious in their hopes for Rasmus. Even if the return of Rasmus’ power is mostly for real, he still has other issues. His plate approach still features too few walks and not enough contact. The same approach that enables him to knock the ball out of the park also results in a high number of pop-ups, which typically lead to a poor average on balls in play. Given his walk and strikeout rates, Rasmus’ 2013 hitting performance relies almost completely on his ability to hit for power and his BABIP. The former may represent his true skill, but the latter likely does not.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


33 Responses to “Colby Rasmus Turns Back the Clock”

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  1. Steve-O says:

    Fuck Colby Rasmus.

    -26 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Steve says:

    I don’t think anyone thinks this Rasmus is for real, and if they do, they need to go look at his peripherals. And they need to study up a bit.

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    • adam says:

      your dumb, yes he K’s alot but hes one of the leading CF in HR and RBI those stats matter…..his ops is over .800 and his obp alone is respectable at .340

      those peripherals matter and at a 4 war, you can’t fake that

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  3. Anon says:

    Rasmus was absolutely dreadful (.173/.201/316, 33 wRC+) over his 140 plate appearances in 2022 with the Blue Jays.

    Rasmus is doing quite well if he is still playing in 2022. Even the compensation picks the Cardinals got as a result of the trade might not be playing baseball then.

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  4. chief00 says:

    As you point out, he’s one of the few bright spots this season. It’s been a pleasure watching him play defense especially which, I guess, is this main reason he’s put up about 4 WAR. I hope he can repeat it, but I’m not holding my breath so I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

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  5. Alex says:

    I don’t think “luck” is so much the best word regarding his (or anyone’s) BABIP, rather, maybe it is unsustainable.

    I would be very eager to see the velocity off the bat for Rasmus – Whenever he hits balls, he seems to hit them very hard. I wonder if some players hit harder balls than others, and that this can lead to a higher BABIP?

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    • theeiffeltower says:

      Yeah, absolutely. And K-rate has a positive correlation with BABIP–guys who swing harder generally strike out more, but also hit it harder when they make contact.

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    • soupman says:

      Was wondering the same thing – this article had me thinking about a HR Rasmus hit early in the year to straight center that would still be in orbit if not for the confines of the skydome.

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  6. jdbolick says:

    Rasmus still has the 25th worst IFFB percentage, and of those ahead of him his BABIP is .025 higher than anyone else (Machado’s .338). Of the top 25, only Chris Carter had a lower GB/FB rate, which would typically suppress BABIP as well. Flukes don’t get any more obvious than this.

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  7. Anonymous Bosch says:

    Another interesting question is whether his nearly 1 defensive WAR represents some underlying improvement or just noise.

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  8. bryan says:

    wow. the blue jays fans are cranky today.

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  9. Ron says:

    FU rasmus, you POS dirty f’n ball player, I hope a middle infielder throws the ball to the base while you are in the base paths coming in with your deliberately trying to break his legs/knees/ankles on another one of your cheap dirty late slides and hits you squarely between the eyes with said thrown ball, and knocks you the F’K out cold with lingering concussion syndrome.
    Die, and Triple Flip Die r.ass.mus

    -6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Billy says:

      Wow. That was completely random, anger filled, and pretty much false. You don’t like baseball being played the real way (breaking up double plays, hard slides, hustle) than stop watching the game because that’s how REAL ball players should play. I’m gonna guess you hated Pete Rose too and not because he gambled.

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      • Ron says:

        Ask Omar Infante about that late dirty with feet/cleats high into him at second. That dirty late slide took Omar out of action for 6 weeks, rasmus is a dirty player,

        A hard clean side is one thing, not that crap when he was on top of and past the bag, 100% deliberate.

        rassmus looks like his parents are first cousins. If my dog had a face like that I’d shave his rear and walk him backwards.

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        • brian says:

          Ron.

          Rasmus’ intention was to break a double play. If you re-watch the video, Rasmus clearly did not spike Infante. Infante did a poor job of fielding the play, and left himself vulnerable. That’s why he got hurt.

          You’re just bitter that a player on your team got injured, and that is clouding your judgment. Hard slides like those happen a lot. It’s up to the fielder to make sure he gets out of the way.

          Even the Tiger’s TV broadcasters said it was a clean slide.

          http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130703&content_id=52611088&vkey=news_mlb&c_id=mlb

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        • Ron says:

          brian, That link you showed me…..did you actually read it?? Tigers players were furious about the play.
          Tigers announcers? Must have been Mario Impemba, the tv guys are such fluff and vanilla.
          Sure his intention was to break up the double play, but he is so stupid/ignorant/ or such a dirty player that he thinks the take out is ok even when you are on top of or past the bag.
          Good clean hard takeout slides are good such as those from past players like Frank Robinson, Don Baylor, Kirk Gibson, et al. The infielder saw it coming, not this late sh$t over/past the bag.
          You can see it how you want and imagine, I will see it as a dirty play. Revenge is a dish best served cold, that crumb will get his from a Tigers pitcher in 2014.

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        • RichW says:

          He slid directly over the bag. Late but it wasn’t dirty.

          If you didn’t like Rasmus’ slide, what do you think of Bill Madlock’s rolling body block on Tony Fernandez in 1987? He was out by 20ft and went 8ft wide of the bag. That’s deliberate and dirty.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8tEZi-bHtU

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  10. Bruce says:

    There’s no doubt Rasmus has some work to do to cut down his strikeouts and increase his walks, but if you look at how this season has played out for him, there are some reasons to believe that Colby is fully capable of taking a step forward next year, even beyond his 2010 season.

    First, his strikeout rate has dropped in the second half after an abysmal first half. He’s changed the position of his hands, and that has made a big difference. So his overall strikeout numbers are inflated because of his terrible strikeout numbers earlier on.

    Second, his BABIP tells a tale of two hitters – a hitter who is prone to poor contact at times (again, this was more pronounced earlier on, but not since July, and another hitter who smokes balls so hard that players don’t have much of an opportunity to make plays on him. The writer doesn’t mention that Colby was hitting a lot of weak ground balls in April, May and June, but much fewer now. There’s a reason he has a high BABIP, and if he figures out what to do with breaking balls away, he could be one more adjustment away from another hike in his numbers.

    Finally, around late July (when Colby changed the position of his hands), Colby really cut down on his susceptibility to two pitches that were giving him grief – the high fastball and pitches that break down and away from him. Already over the offseason, he had cut down on his weakness against the backfoot sliders from righties, but these two adjustments really helped him against lefties. To me, that shows Colby is able to make ongoing adjustments and improve as a hitter, both in the offseason and during the season. He’s a late bloomer, but someone who continues to improve over time. To me, that gives me the confidence to predict that even with a more reasonable BABIP next year (I’m guessing .310 or so, assuming his line-drive profile continues while the popups decrease a touch), Colby will at least maintain his BA and ISO while increasing his OPS+ by 10% or more. All he needs to do is make contact, or better contact, in 10% more of his at-bats without lowering his walk rate. And from what I’ve seen, I think Colby is fully capable of doing that.

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    • Steve says:

      What makes you think he’ll be able to maintain a higher babip? I’m legitimately curious… is it just a guess, simply because he’s made adjustments in the past? Fact remains, he strikes out 30% of the time and hits infield fly balls practically every game. His zone contact is down, his overall contact is down… nothing suggests his babip should be this high. I’m not exactly sure what his xbabip is, but I guarantee you it’s not .360. Check up on that, that’s my suggestion.

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  11. astrostl says:

    If he were in the HR derby, I’d actually watch it. Love the proto-lefty swing, and he can *blast* – with contact.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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