There’s Going to Be a Colby Rasmus Change

Colby Rasmus is amazing. Still just 26, and an elite-level talent, Rasmus is presently slugging .536. He’s a center fielder who clubs like a DH, and his slugging percentage is beating those of Albert Pujols and Anthony Rizzo. Rasmus owns a 135 wRC+, which was Joe Morgan‘s career wRC+. It’s a better wRC+ than those being posted by Carlos Beltran, Andrew McCutchen, and Michael Morse. Rasmus is finally coming into his own, and he’s looking like the superstar the Blue Jays have wanted him to become.

Colby Rasmus is a nightmare. For every seven plate appearances, he’s struck out three times, whiffing more often than batters have whiffed against Max Scherzer. His on-base percentage is being supported by a lofty BABIP, and Rasmus has swung through the ball with nearly half of his swings. With nearly half of his swings! Rasmus’ approach has shown no signs of improvement, and it looks like he’s going to continue to be exploitable for as long as he’s a part of the game.

We have some plate-discipline data going back to 2002. Let’s split seasons and look at guys who batted at least 50 times, and then sort by contact rate in ascending order. The list:

  1. 2004 Jaret Wright, 47.5%
  2. 2011 Chris Capuano, 48.2%
  3. 2012 Josh Johnson, 48.3%
  4. 2005 Aaron Harang, 50.4%
  5. 2011 Matt Garza, 51.2%
  6. 2005 Chris Capuano, 52.3%
  7. 2003 Miguel Batista, 52.6%
  8. 2007 Matt Cain, 52.9%
  9. 2010 Jonathan Sanchez, 53.0%
  10. 2004 Doug Davis, 53.1%
  11. 2006 Clay Hensley, 53.5%
  12. 2011 Brandon Beachy, 53.6%
  13. 2004 Jose Acevedo, 53.6%
  14. 2013 Colby Rasmus, 53.9%

Well hold on a second. Let’s look at the same list, but this time let’s look only at non-pitchers.

  1. 2013 Colby Rasmus, 53.9%
  2. 2012 Carlos Peguero, 54.0%

At least in terms of recent baseball, no non-pitcher has swung and missed with Colby Rasmus’ frequency. Though batters are trending toward more and more strikeouts, the league average is about 80% contact. Rasmus’ rate is practically unheard of, and it’s not like a bunch of swings and misses are inconspicuous. Yet somehow, Rasmus has still produced in the early going, basically clubbing the ball whenever he’s struck it. We wrote a lot last season about how Josh Hamilton‘s year was essentially unprecedented in terms of productivity and discipline. Rasmus is even more extreme — not in swinging at balls out of the zone, but in hitting while missing. Rasmus’ player page is a three-week absurdity.

So what could be driving the sudden drop in contact? After all, we should believe more in plate-discipline stats than in plate-appearance-result stats. I think a good place to begin would be with this lede:

Colby Rasmus said last week he’d rather hit fastballs than breaking balls. Fastballs, Rasmus reasoned, are easier to handle than off-speed pitches even if they’re approaching 95 m.p.h.

“Definitely,” he said. “That doesn’t matter. I don’t usually mind it. I usually like it when guys throw hard. I’m a fastball hitter, so that’s the one I’ve got to look for.”

Something we make available here is PITCHf/x information. It’s on the player pages and it’s all over the leaderboards. Among this information is PITCHf/x pitch type, and while the algorithm is far from perfect, over big enough samples it gets the job done. I was curious about batter rates of fastballs seen, so I combined fastballs, two-seamers, sinkers, and cutters. The league average is about 61%, holding pretty steady over the past few years. Used to be that Rasmus was fed a slightly below-average rate of fastballs. As far as 2013 is concerned, you can go ahead and throw “slightly” in the garbage.

Visual information:


Last year, Rasmus saw 59% fastballs. This was pretty normal, for him. So far this year, he’s seen 47% fastballs. That’s not the lowest heater rate in baseball — Wilin Rosario has seen even fewer, and John Jaso‘s just about tied — but no one’s rate has seen a bigger drop between seasons. Here’s that leaderboard, in fastball-rate drop between 2012 and 2013:

  1. Colby Rasmus, -12.4%
  2. Luis Cruz, -12.0%
  3. John Jaso, -11.5%
  4. Kyle Seager, -11.1%
  5. Alex Gordon, -10.6%

Rasmus, also, has seen a decline in first-pitch fastballs, from about 66% to about 39%. Rasmus says he’s a fastball hitter. Rasmus hasn’t seen very many fastballs, relative to the usual. Relative even to himself, before.

You might think Rasmus is seeing a bunch of offspeed stuff specifically because he keeps striking out — deep counts mean fewer fastballs. However, this isn’t really the case. Rasmus has been ahead in the count for 17% of his pitches, compared to 16% a year ago. He’s been behind in the count for 35% of his pitches, compared to 37% a year ago. It’s not counts that are driving the fastball rate. It’s pitchers, catchers, and Rasmus that are driving the fastball rate.

Of course, because it’s still early, there are some potential biases at play. Maybe Rasmus hasn’t yet faced a representative sample of pitchers. At the other end of the scale, some Brewers have seen a lot more fastballs. Some Astros have seen a lot more fastballs. That should even out over time. But the Blue Jays, as a team, haven’t faced a particularly low fastball rate, so that doesn’t explain very much, if it explains anything. Again, Rasmus hasn’t been facing a bunch of breaking-ball pitchers — he’s been facing a bunch of pitchers who have thrown him a bunch of breaking balls.

So on one hand, Rasmus has produced. On the other, Rasmus has been a catastrophe, and it seems to have a lot to do with the pitch types he’s seen. All four of his home runs have been hit against heaters, and the offspeed stuff has been driving him insane, in between the base hits. Rasmus could, in theory, go the way of Josh Hamilton, sustaining a weird dichotomy all season long. But even Hamilton last year made a lot more contact than Rasmus has made so far, and Hamilton was hard to make sense of at the time. Right now, there’s little, if any reason to throw Colby Rasmus many fastballs. So Colby Rasmus should have to earn his subsequent fastballs. There are going to be adjustments made, here. If not, I have to imagine there’s going to be an adjustment to Colby Rasmus’ OPS.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

57 Responses to “There’s Going to Be a Colby Rasmus Change”

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  1. Andrew says:

    Great piece

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  2. Sando says:

    what a headcase.

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    • stan says:

      That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it? He’s probably the worst player to ever be analyzed on fangraphs because it comes down to whether his head is on straight. He’s probably going to have a superstar year some day when he puts it all together. Good luck figuring out when that will happen though.

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  3. Jays Fan says:

    Colby Rasmus strikes me as an incredibly talented, but not overly intelligent baseball player (sorry Colby). It is very frustrating to watch.

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  4. JP says:

    lower your PA and see where Rick Ankiel falls in this. 4 less Ks in 27 less PA, but Ankiel’s slg is over .600, with an almost identical OPS as rasmus at this point – fun with april numbers.

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    • RojasHoneybee says:

      Ankiel has ridiculous power, rather like Rasmus.

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    • Overly Pedantic Guy Who Gets Your Point But Says It Anyway says:

      4 *fewer* K’s in 27 *fewer* PA.

      Use ‘fewer’ for things you can count (fewer strikeouts, fewer plate appearances, fewer comments about grammar when we can focus on a perfectly interesting article), ‘less’ for things you can’t (less sand in the sand dune; Rasmus is likely less intelligent than Matthew Lesko but could beat him in a 100-yard-dash; less uninteresting and pedantic parsing of comments that are already readily understandable).

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  5. Matt Mosher says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    One of the weirdest looking dudes in baseball.

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  6. hodgy says:

    first adjustment. get the hell to the back of the batters box so you have a full 60-ish feet to see the pitch rather than the 57 he is currently getting. the old man’s theory was to move up so you can hit the breaking ball “before” it breaks. clearly that is not working!

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    • east_st_louis_toodle_oo says:

      He used to do that sometimes in St. Louis, too. It didn’t work then, either.

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  7. jacjacatk says:

    Rick Ankiel misses the PA cutoff, but is currently hitting 229/229/629 (OPS+ 128) having struck out 23 times in 35 PAs.

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  8. Ian says:

    Looking at Toronto’s stats and their catcher has one walk to 28 strike outs and a .600+ slg.

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  9. l1ay says:

    As others have mentioned, its pretty surprising Ankiel was completely ignored for this piece considering Cameron just wrote a piece about Ankiel’s epic contact problems about a week ago.

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  10. tomholzy says:

    Or to complete the triumvirate of former lefthanded Cardinals prospects struggling to make contact, I present Brett Wallace’s 17 strikeouts in 24 ABs with an admirable two walks before his recent demotion to AAA. Too much pressure in Houston this year.

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  11. Justin Bailey says:

    His name should be Colb Erasmus. That would be more cool.

    +15 Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Joey Terdoslavich says:

    Adam Dunn’s 7 wrc+ is pretty impressive as well.

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    • Jeff says:

      Add in today’s game and he’s down to 0. One more bad game and he could be in the negatives for a stat with + in the name.

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  13. Ivan Grushenko says:

    Rasmus never seemed all that “talented” to me, and his scouting reports at draft time were more along the lines of “above average across the board” than “wow this guy is Jim Thorpe!”. Why do people keep calling him an “elite talent”? Which tool screams?

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    • Wayne says:

      Above-average across the board is still extremely impressive and you rarely see it. I believe in ’05 he was seen as a potential 30/20 player with good defense in CF which would make him a superstar.

      The only problem is that his defense has been mediocre, he hasn’t shown up on the base paths, his plate discipline has disappeared at times, and he has had major issues making consistent contact, particularly on the outer half.

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      • Adrock says:

        His defense has actually been pretty good, both in comparison to the other non-Gose alternatives that have appeared in centre field and by the numbers.

        Other than that, I agree with you.

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      • Oh, Beepy says:

        Rasmus’ defense has been insanely effective this year, he has sneaky speed that sees him jog up to most FBs giving a bit of a false negative in the ‘eye-test’ department but his D is easily the most consistently above-average facet of his game.

        Also anyone who goes 30/20 at any position is an elite talent, you moron.

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  14. Wayne says:

    I’ve always liked Colby Rasmus but calling him “amazing” is silly.

    Since 2011, Rasmus has a .303 wOBA which is 123rd among 139 qualifiers.

    A .303 wOBA is not “clubbing like a DH.” Unless you’re talking about the worst hitting DH of all-time.

    He has improved this year (tiny sample size) but his OBP of .320 is pretty bad and his 5/27 BB/K is atrocious.

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  15. Tim says:

    Why is swinging and missing bad?

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  16. Philby says:

    Can’t agree that his defence has been “mediocre.” In fact,he has been pretty darn good on a team that has been just dreadful defensively

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    • Jason B says:

      Hey don’t sell the Jays short – they have been dreadful in many, many facets. Quite consistent in their dreadfulness, in fact.


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  17. Greg W. says:

    It all comes down to pitch recognition. I’m pretty sure Rasmus is swinging with the expectation of a fastball. If he can do less guessing, and identify pitch types more often, then his swing rate will correct itself. Unlike Arencibia, he does take walks, so there is at least some hope that Mottola can get him seeing the pitch and laying off what he can’t hit.

    The biggest problem I see on the Jays is the lack of a 2-strike approach. Bautista and EE swing hard at everything they take a cut at, but they have good-excellent pitch recognition, and tons of power. Taking a more defensive swing with 2 strikes might help those other players in the lineup with lesser skills, but it doesn’t seem to happen too often.

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  18. Nathan says:

    I have been close at times in buying into the Colby Rasmus hype but when I look at K% it scares me. There’s only one player that I’ve ever warranted owning with a high K rate and that’s Pedro Alvarez. He helped me in the power cats last year. After this season so far, and if this trend continues, I can no longer keep Rasmus on my Watch List.

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  19. jb21 says:

    Just watched Colby and JP strike out in the 9th. Another Jays loss. Fun.

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