Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Colby Rasmus Bounce-Almost-Back

When it comes to baseball, it's generally pretty tough to balance in-depth quantitative and thoughtful qualitative analysis. Statistics pave the way for a clear picture if you understand them, but frequently lack readability. Meanwhile, the prose of an astute qualitative analysis is untouchable by tables, charts and even these fancy newfangled infographics. Convincing you that Colby Rasmus will put it all together in 2012 will rely on a little bit of both.

The most convincing argument for a bounce back year from the shaggy-haired Rasmus is his youth. Rasmus is, by all accounts, just beginning to enter his power-peak at age twenty-five. Despite playing baseball for his entire life under the tutelage of an overbearing father, it's realistic to assume that Rasmus' naughty habits are yet to be permanently ingrained. Rasmus is, after all, just a couple of seasons removed from his break-out year of 2010: A year in which Rasmus crushed the ball to the tune of a .276 AVG / .361 OBP / .498 SLG triple-slash. While many of his statistics were aided by an unsustainably high .354 batting average on balls in play, Rasmus showed signs of improvement across the board in 2010.

The mid-season trade in 2011 that sent Rasmus to Toronto was supposed to cure all of his psychological ailments but as Toronto fans can attest, only made things worse. Rasmus hit .173 in Toronto with an on-base percentage just barely over .200 which resulted in a wRC+ of 34. Ouch.

Based on a handful of empirical evidence, it's safe to say that Rasmus' woes are a result of approach rather than skill-set, though. Basically, it's all just in his head. Upon his arrival in Toronto, it was clear that Rasmus wasn't just trying to impress, he was trying to impress via the long-ball. During the previous two years, Rasmus managed a very respectable 19.5% line-drive rate while posting fly-ball rates in the mid-to-high forties. Yet, upon his arrival in Toronto, Rasmus saw his line-drive rate plummet to 11% while his fly-ball rate shot up to 54%. To make matters worse, Rasmus who'd routinely posted in-field fly-ball (essentially automatic outs) rates of around five percent somehow managed to post a mark of 20% in Toronto and 15.5% on the year. Rasmus whiffed on pitches almost 14% of the time which lead to him being down in the count 0-1 at a career rate of 66% during his stint in Toronto.There's little doubt in my mind that Rasmus was trying to crush and lift every pitch and predictably saw his walk-rate drop to a career low 3.6% while simultaneously posting a career-high 27.9% strikeout rate while in Toronto. Rasmus was guessing and he was guessing incorrectly. For a youngster who'd never had trouble with fastballs and change-ups, Rasmus posted negative values on every young player's bread and butter. The only thing Rasmus could hit was the curveball, a pitch that'd gave him trouble historically.

For Colby Rasmus, 2012 will be an important year, but it'll also be a bounce-back year. Certainly, it can't be quite as simple as telling the kid to stop trying to crush the ball and just relax, but for Rasmus' sake I hope that's what the Blue Jays coaching staff spends the entire spring telling 'em.

NB:  Sample Sizes.

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