Most of you readers know that I’ve been spending my time writing about the Blue Jays’ minor league teams lately and haven’t really gotten into this up and (mostly) down season that the big league club has been playing. The fact is that the Jays are probably one of the most widely blogged about teams in sports and I haven’t really seen much that I needed to say.
However, I wanted to write about someone who’s been (surprisingly) somewhat neglected in the blogosphere. Everyone’s talking about the pitching woes or Adam Lind’s resurgence or “Free Josh Thole” or Munenori Kawasaki or Jose Reyes’s imminent return, but, even when Anthony Gose was up in the bigs, there wasn’t anyone calling for Gose to play every day and to axe Colby Rasmus.
Why not? Colby was a scapegoat for the first month of the season but in the last month and a half, calls to bring up Gose (even when he was brought up) and to play him in Colby’s stead have disappeared. Well, here’s why: Colby’s playing pretty well.
How “pretty well” is Colby playing? Well, despite his mediocre .250 batting average and slightly below average .314 OBP, he has a slugging percentage of .455 which is very good, built upon his 11 home runs. But when we get into some of the more advanced metrics, how good a season Colby is having really gets clarified. His OPS+ is 107 (or his OPS is 7% higher than league average). According to Fangraphs, his wOBA (weighted On Base Average) is .334, where average is about .320 and his wRC+ (weighted Runs Created plus) is 110 (or 10% higher than league average). What is that saying? That even WITHOUT his excellent defense, Colby is producing at the plate better than the league average player, not just the average center fielder. In fact, when sorting by qualified major league center fielders, Rasmus is the 12th best when sorted by wRC+ and 10th best when sorted by wOBA — two metrics that try to include total offensive contribution. According to Fangraphs, there are 26 qualified ML center fielders which means the Jays are trotting out someone in the top half of the league.
So, what’s the big deal? Colby’s going to be Colby. And to be honest, I’m glad he cut his hair. I also can’t stop from laughing when hearing him do those radio commercials for a car dealership. So what’s different about the shorter-haired, car-dealership-loving Colby than we’ve seen before?
As a Cardinal in 2010, Colby had a banner year that everyone expected him to repeat and live up to again and again. He hit .276/.361/.498 with 23 HRs, but some of that was probably due to an uncommonly high BABIP of .354. He put up an fWAR (Fangraphs WAR) of 4.0 and a rWAR (Baseball Reference WAR) of 3.4 despite a wRC+ of 130 (creating 30% more runs than the major league average), probably because his fielding metrics were considered to be negatives that year.
Last season, for the Blue Jays, one where fans couldn’t wait for the arrival of Anthony Gose and be rid of the Rasmus, he hit .223/.289/.400 and also hit 23 HRs (the same amount as in his banner year of 2010). His BABIP was very low – .259 – which led to a wRC+ of just 85 and an fWAR of 1.2 and rWAR of 1.7. I’ve already gone over his numbers this season, but to put things in perspective, so far this year in about 2/5 the amount of at bats, he has accumulated 1.7 fWAR (more than he had all of last year, according to Fangraphs) and 1.5 rWAR.
Here’s a little chart for you to follow along with:
Now, here’s where things get a little fun. When we look at Colby’s batted ball data, we see even more detail that shows that this above average is kind of a hybrid of 2010 and 2012 results.
While Colby’s strikeout rate is higher than it’s ever been in his career this year (32.6%), it has been dropping, and his 2010 season featured a much higher rate than his 2012 season did (27.7% in 2010, 23.8% in 2012). His walk rate is around the same as last year (although slightly higher) but significantly below his 2010 numbers. The biggest similarities between 2010 and this season are in his Ground Ball to Fly Ball ratios. Amazingly, the ratio is far lower this season than last, and almost exactly the same as in 2010 (0.66 GB/FB in 2010, 0.89 in 2012 and 0.69 in 2013). When we look at individual ground ball percentages (32% GB in 2010, 37.6% in 2012, 32.4% in 2013) and fly ball percentages (48.6% in 2010, 42.2 % in 2012, and 47.2% in 2013), we can see that Colby is at his best when he hits the ball in the air more. Throughout his career his home run to fly ball percentage is significantly above league average (which is around 10%) so, he gets the best results when he hits the ball in the air, considering how hard he hits it.
Here’s a chart of batted ball data (2010 is on top, 2012 in the middle, 2013 on the bottom):
I’m not going to get any more detailed with pitch data, because I think this set already tells an important story. What does this story say? Colby’s not at his 2010 self, but there was so much luck involved in that year (the low InField Fly Ball % and the high BABIP) that he’s unlikely to return to the .276 hitting version of himself. The ball, however, is coming off his bat similarly which is leading to much greater results. If he gets on base just a little bit more and strikes out just a little bit less, I think we’ll have someone who’s not only a solid major league player, but an excellent one.
And I haven’t even said anything about his defense, as hard as it is to quantify. Colby plays a great center field, something I was relieved to see as soon as he was acquired in 2011.
Considering the struggles that Anthony Gose is having in AAA right now, Rasmus isn’t a bad guy to have around and he’s definitely been a productive member of the lineup, despite how little attention he seems to get. As this team tries to position itself in a playoff fight this year or next, having the 2013 version of Colby Rasmus is definitely a plus for the Toronto Blue Jays.