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Colby Rasmus Disappoints Again

Once upon a time, Colby Rasmus possessed an exciting power/speed combo in the Cardinals farm system. A potential 20/20 man, maybe even 30/20, who posted strong walk rates and decent contact rates given his power, Rasmus looked to be an intriguing fantasy outfielder. But after showing some glimmers of his potential over his first two seasons, he was shipped off to the Blue Jays in 2011 and has hit a robust .213 for his new team. Is this all we can hope for or is a true breakout somewhere in his future?

First off, Rasmus is still just 26 years old and will therefore first be entering what should be his prime years. You know how many times a young player suddenly breaks out with no warning or anything in his stats to suggest such event was going to occur? Sometimes a player’s age is the most important number and when you could draft that player cheaply knowing the potential he once displayed, it could be worth closing your eyes and just ignoring what he has done so far for the most part. I’m not saying Rasmus will be an example of this in 2013, but that it could easily happen.

Rasmus’ biggest problem in the big leagues so far has been hitting for average. Now, of course, many factors contribute to that skill, or better yet, result. Though his strikeout rate was right in line with his minor league career during his rookie campaign in 2009, he suddenly struggled to make contact ever since. The odd thing is that his SwStk% has been remarkably consistent, but he has swung at pitches outside the zone more often every single season, while also making more contact on those pitches as well. Want an explanation for his poor BABIP marks the last two years? Lots of swinging at outside pitches, while also making contact, which likely leads to weak contact, which results in balls in play being easier to field and going for outs.

His xBABIP in 2012 was .312, versus a .259 actual mark, but it was actually right in line with his actual in 2011. The 2012 xBABIP is definitely boosted by a solid line drive rate, which was absent in 2011, though too many pop-ups have plagued him both years. All the fly balls certainly aren’t helping his BABIP either. So basically, Rasmus needs to stop chasing so many pitches outside the zone and hit fewer pop-ups. He’ll never be a legit above average BABIP guy, but he might be able to get close to the league average once again.

Rasmus flashed good speed in the minors, stealing double digit bases at each of his stops. However, he has only stolen 24 bases over four years in the Majors and has only been successful 63% of the time. I have no idea why he hasn’t run much in the Majors, but a surprise theft total doesn’t look to be in the cards.

Moving on to his power, Rasmus’ ISO has improved gradually every year since his rookie season, if you exclude 2010. His HR/FB ratio rebounded nicely this season, but it was coupled with the lowest fly ball rate of his career. In 2011, his fly balls and home runs went for an average distance of 282 feet, which is above the league average. In 2012, that distance fell to just 273 feet, right around the league average. So he managed to increase his HR/FB ratio by more than 50% while hitting the ball for a lower average distance. In 2010, during his best ISO and HR/FB rate season, the distance was 289 feet, which actually matches up. Normally, I would suggest that a player like this would see some HR/FB ratio regression the following year. But, age-related improvements might offset that in this specific case.

In shallower mixed leagues, it’s hard to get excited about taking a chance on Rasmus, even as a $1 gamble. He’s not BABIPing .354 again, so the likelihood that he kills your average is quite high. He barely steals bases and I’d take the under on 23 homers. He also can’t hit lefties, so odds are he doesn’t see 565 at-bats again. That said, I wouldn’t mind gambling on him cheaply in an AL-Only league, since these are the types of cheap upside gambles you need to make win deep leagues.