What do Salvador Perez, Torii Hunter, Coco Crisp, Carlos Santatna, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Jones, Jason Kipnis, and David Ortiz all have in common?
They all received votes for the American League MVP award, despite being less valuable– by FanGraphs’ WAR– and playing more games than Colby Rasmus.
Now, WAR is hardly an argument-ender. There are far too many valid arguments to be had within it for me to be able to sit back right now, cross my arms, and marvel at the wondrous job I’ve done in arguing for Colby’s superiority over those guys. It’s a complex number that does a very, very good job– in my view– of giving the appropriate weight to the various components of performance that, added together, make up the totality of a player’s on-field value. Yet there can be elements of what a player contributes that are not quantified within its boundaries, and one can quibble with either the weightings, or what “replacement level” is, or with something like its reliance on a one-year sample of fluctuating and imperfect defensive metrics like UZR,
Still, though, more than any tool we currently have at our disposal, WAR is able to distill all of what a player did on the field and spit it out as a single number. And when you look at those numbers for American League players in 2013, Rasmus ranked 14th, despite having played fewer games than anybody ahead of him, save for the Twins’ Joe Mauer.
Some crude math: the 118 games that Rasmus played represent less than 80% of 150 games played, which, rather than a full 162, seems like a pretty good expectation in a season for a player who didn’t suffer some kind of major injury– as Rasmus did, in a very low-level sense, missing a month with a strained oblique. Had he avoided that injury, then, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to have seen him adding another 20% to his 4.8 WAR total as well, which would have vaulted him pretty clearly among the top ten AL position players, between Robinson Cano and the Boston trio of Pedroia, Ellsbury and Victorino.
The world doesn’t work that way, of course, and frankly, Rasmus doesn’t need any sort of fanciful explanation to tell anybody that he had a tremendous year. He ranked fifth among all centre fielders in league- and park-adjusted wRC+ (behind only Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Shin-Soo Choo, and Carlos Gomez), and sixth among his peers in terms of the defensive component of FanGraphs’ WAR. In fact, the only reason Jacoby Ellsbury– who, it should be noted, is about to get a free agent contract in the $120- to $140-million range, most likely– ranked ahead of Rasmus in total WAR was that he was much better on the base paths and played in more games.
Colby, in other words, is going to get paid when his time comes to test the market after next season– should he keep it up, and should the Jays let him get there– but even before that we can say something quite remarkable, and quite unexpected by so very many in this town, and so very many who jump to overstate the detriment of his strikeout totals: the title of this post. There is no doubt in my mind that, had he not missed that month, Rasmus would have seen his name on someone’s MVP ballot.
I mean… I don’t know this for sure, but come on! Obviously! And how completely fucked is that!!?!??!
I mean, it’s not– he’s always had abundant talent– but even the most staunch believers in that talent, among whom I consider myself, couldn’t honestly say that they saw this coming after the two dog shit seasons at the plate he’d put in prior to this one. Maybe “someday down the line,” but definitely not for certain in 2013. And definitely not after hearing the conversation repeated ad nauseam in the mainstream media– and on one radio station I can think of, in particular– about how abysmal he was.
Sure, it takes a hefty positional adjustment, and defensive metrics that suggest he played the field this season far better than he ever has before, for him to even enter the conversation. But enter it he would have, if not for a little too much time on the shelf.
So rather than get worked up (once again) about the (once again) absurd results of this year’s vote– especially absurd as they are, given that I’d always kind of thought it was more within character of the “old school” thinkers to put a premium on a playing-the-right-way kind of thing like defence (hey, but why let intellectual integrity and consistency get in the way of sticking it to the VORPies, amiright?)– this is how I choose to see it.
We’ve spoken a lot this winter about the Jays’ need for players who simply do not suck– about the positives of an Ubaldo Jimenez, who can be counted on for innings, even when pitching at his very worst. Jays fans would do well to remind themselves that, faint praise as this may sound like, they have got themselves one of those in Rasmus. Even when he was posting sub-.300 on-base percentages he was a positive value player simply because of the position he plays and how well he plays it. And when he contributes with the bat the way that he did in 2013? He’s one of the best players in baseball.
It’s kind of nice to sit here and be able to appreciate that.
And I suspect, with a June 2015 draft pick already hanging over his head (because at this point it looks very likely he’d turn down a qualifying offer next winter, should the Jays let it get to that) and needing to be compensated for in any trade agreement for him that may be forged this winter, that we will be able to appreciate it for at least another season as well. He’s still, probably fairly, pegged as volatile, but holy shit, he’s undeniably also very, very valuable.
Cheers to Colby for a terrific fucking season.