Here’s an idea I’m instantly regretting: instead of empty open thread posts for playoff games, as we’ve done around here in years past, each day I’m going to attempt to have a quick look around at some splits and stats on a Jays player’s 2013 season, because… what the hell else is there to do for the next month? Or the next week. Or just today– or however long I actually continue to follow through on this exercise.
8:07 PM ET – Tampa Bay at Texas – David Price (2.4 rWAR) vs. Martin Perez (1.7 rWAR)
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Earlier today I abandoned a post I was in the middle of writing that made mention of the idiot-empowering discourse-dumbing nonsense spewed by Dave Perkins back on Friday’s edition of Prime Time Sports, including his ridiculous scoffing the Jays focus on adding “talent,” and his saying that Colby Rasmus is “not a winning ballplayer,” or some such garbage. But I didn’t walk away from the post before looking at a few numbers on Rasmus, who had a superb season and should not be anywhere remotely close to a non-moronic conversation about what was wrong with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy for him to repeat it, but there’s a whole lot to like. By FanGraphs’ WAR, Rasmus was the sixth most valuable centre fielder in baseball, and that’s despite having a hundred fewer plate appearances than anybody else in the top eight. Even if you’re not really feelin’ the defensive component of fWAR, when you isolate what Rasmus did at the plate he’s even more impressive (provided, of course, you can see the number on the leaderboard past the blinding gold shimmer of Mike Trout’s stats). By wRC+, which is league and park adjusted, Rasmus was even with Carlos Gomez at 130, good for fourth among centre fielders with over 400 plate appearances, behind only Trout, Andrew McCutchen, and Shin-Soo Choo.
That’s crazy. That also means he’s crazy valuable– and heading into a contract year. So… I’m sure the Jays loved the five-year $90-million contract the Giants just handed Hunter Pence, who plays in an outfield corner and posted a shade-better wRC+ of 133, right?
But the thing about Rasmus is, his success seems rather tied into spikes in his BABIP. At least, that’s what it looks like on his FanGraphs page. His career BABIP is .298, but it has hardly been an even ride, with the mark during his two excellent years (2010 and this one) being in the .355 range, while the high water mark of his other years is just .282.
That’s concerning. I’d be lying, though, if I said that it didn’t look like the quality of the contact Rasmus made in 2013 was considerably better and more consistent than in the seasons before. Comparing him to the other edition of “Good Colby,” the numbers show that he was a different hitter in 2013 than he was in that excellent 2010, particularly against left-handers. The samples are small, so maybe we shouldn’t take too much from them, but FanGraphs will tell you that strikeout rate stabilizes after about 60 plate appearances, and walk rate at 120– and versus LHP in both of his successful seasons he had a shade over 130. Interestingly, though, in 2010 he walked 10.7% of the time and had a strikeout rate of 26% against lefties, while this year those numbers are 4.5% and 31.8%. Consequently, he posted just a .310 wOBA against lefties this year, compared to .356 in 2010, though his numbers even out when you add in his work against right-handers, because he friggin’ crushed them even this season.
In the overall, against both right-handers and left-handers, looking at his plate discipline numbers, there is some modest year-to-year shuffling, but only a couple things that jump out as noticeably different. One thing that does is that this season Rasmus swung at the lowest percentage of pitches, both in total and in the zone, of his career. This Z-Swing% is close to what he did in 2012– especially if you use the human-adjusted Baseball Info Solutions data on his FanGraphs page, and not the raw Pitch F/X data– but the big difference between the rates in those two seasons comes in the amount of contact he made on pitches outside the strike zone. In 2013 he swung about 3.5% less often at pitches outside the zone (per BIS) than in 2012, and in the overall made contact even less.
I’m not going to claim to know definitively what this might tell us, but if you told me he was swinging at fewer pitches in the zone because he was doing a better job of hunting pitches on which he could make higher quality contact, passing up early count strikes that aren’t to his liking, and that the better results came because of that, in spite of a career high strikeout rate and a career low contact rate– that he was selling out to hit for more power (which he successfully did, posting a career high ISO)– I could buy it. In fact, that’s something we’d talked about him doing during the year, and it would make sense as a strategy given his home park, which he certainly took advantage of this year, posting a .393 wOBA at home, as compared to just .335 on the road.
Even that number, though, is a little bit troubling. I think Rasmus is a terrific player and it felt like he was a different hitter this season, but he’s just been so volatile over the course of his career that I don’t think anybody should be ready to buy that this is who he now is, because after a couple years in the wilderness he’s finally been able to make a positive change in his approach. Maybe! But that uncertainty, for me, probably rules out the idea that you’ll sometimes hear tossed out there, of moving him to a corner and slotting Anthony Gose into centre. In fact, it might even be reasonable to consider moving Rasmus while the opportunity is there and his value is high, and giving Gose– who, as I’ve written before, doesn’t need to hit all that much to be a rather valuable guy– a shot.
This is, of course, a dilemma we’ve all recognized for a while now. It’s not the worst one in the world to have, but given the way that the Jays have in recent years stood by players who they’ve helped turn into breakout players– Bautista, Encarnacion, and Lind, for example– I wonder how much they’re actually considering letting someone else reap the fruits of their labours. I guess if it means adding pitching…
I guess we’ll have to wait and see. I’m all for having Colby get a chance to prove that this truly is his new reality while patrolling the Rogers Centre carpet, but when it comes down to it, that probably goes against my better judgement. Again, he’s about to get very expensive, he has a cheap replacement already knocking on the door (despite some major warts of his own), and a quick revert to his 2011 or 2012 levels of production would mean a pretty gigantic value loss for the club. If the powers that be decide that he’s the horse they want to bet on I won’t lose my shit about it, but their track record as gamblers is looking a little too spotty right now to be quite as comfortable with as we have in the past.