Monday, August 27, 2012

Colby Rasmus: Star or bum?

Cheese, or Razamatazz? A bit of both.

TorStar News Service

Since Colby has had his groin injured and was pulled in extra innings on August 3rd, he has posted a line of .113 / .175 / .140 over 57 plate appearances. 

Rasmus is hurt, and playing hurt, and probably would be on the DL if a number of other players were not. He is adjusting his swing to deal with pain. He is not playing well in the outfield. He is currently an offensive and defensive liability to the team. 

But with the Jays at 14 games under .500, why not let him play?

Wilner posted, after Saturday's loss to Baltimore, this, and it sparked a debate over Colby's usefulness as a player and a centerfielder in the major leagues of baseball. Let's try to put a reasonable spin on this by looking at his numbers.

Rasmus has been as hot and cold as a player gets in the majors. 

Born in August 1986, he is the only successful MLB player drafted out of Russell County high school in Seale, Alabama. Colby was drafted by the Cardinals in the 1st round in 2005 (28th pick overall) in the same year as Andrew McCutcheon, Jay Bruce, Brett Gardner, John Mayberry, Peter Bourjos, and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Colby received a $1M signing bonus, and his high school numbers looked pretty ridiculous, with the 2nd highest number of home runs hit in a season ever in the state of Alabama (Bo Jackson) and helped his high school win the national championship in 2005. He ascended through the minors and in 2009, he was rated the number #3 prospect by the Baseball Almanac in 2009, behind David Price and Matt Wieters. He started for the Cardinals in 2009 on the 2nd game of the season.

Colby's 2009 season as a rookie was hot and cold. He had a streak from June 1 - 19 where he bat .429 / .429 / .714 over 16 games, then there was a period from July 17 to August 7 where he bat .068 / .160 / .068 over 18 games. He finished the season batting .251 / .307 / .407 which for a rookie isn't bad. 

Colby's 2010 season was excellent. From the period of April 18 to June 15 over 49 games, he bat .319 / .405 / .625 with about 25 of his 51 hits were for extras, but then from August 13 to September 3 (11 games), he bat .050 / .321 / .100 in 28 plate appearances after he hurt his calf in a game. He finished his 2nd season in the MLB with a line of .276 / .351 / .498 and probably was the best offensive CF in the NL that year. From a defensive perspective, however, Colby was not very good, letting in 11 runs above average (worst in the NL). And his BABIP (Batting average of balls in play was well above league average, meaning that some of his extra hits were due to walks).

In 2011, Colby's defense was vastly improved, letting in 6 runs below average and getting some assists as well, but still, his defense has mostly been rated at average to below average for the position. As a hitter, he started off very well, batting .311 / .397 / .470 into May 13th before sliding back down to a .246 / .332 / .420 hitter at the trade deadline.

In addition, Colby had issues with Tona La Russa, and in an interview, the Cards manager claimed that Rasmus wasn't listening to his coaches. Colby was traded to to Toronto at the end of July for some relievers and Corey Paterson. The trade bolstered the St. Louis pitching staff to the point where they were able to win it all.

In Toronto, Colby started off well enough with a series of 16 games where he hit .302 / .308 / .556 with more than 1/2 of his hits for extras, but the 9 game bookends he hit 2-29 before jamming his right wrist, missing 3 weeks of the season towards the end. And the rest of the season was unremarkable, batting .089 / .128 / .156 (12 games) probably not being to get any valuable rehab games in because the minor leagues were shut down for the year. 

So what is to be learned by experience thus far into Colby's career:

(1) He is a below average to average defender. While he can run, we've seen him simply miss balls and misjudge plays. His arm is just okay. If he could run AND catch, he would be a great defender.

(2) He is subject to longish hot and cold streaks and therefore lacks consistency. When he is having his hot streaks, he can be excellent, but his cold streaks are equally as bad. 

(3) He takes a long time to recover from injuries. In each case where he was injured (2011 - wrist, 2010 - calf, 2012 - groin, he has gone under .089 in a series of 12 games where he has hurt himself.

So, looking at 2012, he injured his groin on August 3, and is batting .113 / .175 / .170 since. This should be no surprise, as it takes a long time for his bat to recover from injuries.

From May 9 to the all star break, he hit to his original 2010 form, batting .284 / .353 / .555 with 14 home runs. From the all star break until July 31, he bat just .152 / .194 / .242 over 17 games. Similarly, from April 22 - May 8, over 16 games, he bat just .137 / .228 / .216. 

So with all that we know, it is no wonder that the fans are hot and cold on Colby. It's because his outfield defending is okay, his hitting is very hot and very cold, and he takes a long time to recover from injuries. But his hot streaks are much longer than his cold streaks.

My feeling is that Colby's upside when he is hitting well (such as the two months this year, most of 2010 in St. Louis, the start of 2011, and a period of time in 2011 playing for the Jays before his injury) is that he is a tremendous offensive player when he is healthy and on. That's what Anthopoulos loved about him, and what the Jays fans love about him too.

So, he is both Cheese and Razzamatazz. He is Colby Rasmus, and at 2.7 million dollars, a pretty good deal.

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