Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Be Consistent: The Rasmus-Snider Paradox

The vitriol that's been spewed towards Colby Rasmus by an overwhelming number of Blue Jays fans this offseason is nothing if not perplexing.

I say this because I’m certain many of these fans quick to brand Rasmus as a prospect that never materialized also belong to the pro-Travis Snider camp. Of course, there are subtle variations in their respective pedigrees, but fundamentally, they’re astonishing similar.

Both players were drafted out of high school in first round -- Rasmus in 2005; Snider in 2006. Both players excelled in the minor leagues -- Rasmus posted an OPS of .852 in 417 minor league contests; Snider sits at .901 over 439 games. And though it’s a purely superficial observation, both players possess a kind of abrasive haughtiness that’s tolerable so long as the production is there.

And yet the dichotomy in sentiment towards the two couldn’t be more dramatic. Travis is the golden-boy who’s simply a victim of developmental mismanagement while Rasmus is the uncoachable rogue with a bad attitude and equally unsavory reputation that St. Louis was happy to dispose of.

Rasmus’ attitude has to be the source of the antipathy because no reasonable person could actually dismiss a 25-year-old with his pedigree after only a scant 140 plate appearances in a Toronto uniform. And unlike Snider, Rasmus has enjoyed more than a modicum of success at the big league level. In his age-23 season, Rasmus posted a .276/.361/.498 line, along with 23 homeruns, 66 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases. His 132 OPS+ that season ranked 13th in the National League.

Yes, his brief stint with Toronto at the end of 2011 was discouraging, but bear in mind that he was struggling with a wrist injury for much of that time, not to mention the task of acclimating himself to a new country, new clubhouse, new teammates, and a new organizational philosophy. And frankly, I surmise that it was difficult for Rasmus to endear himself so quickly to a new team considering the reputation that continually precedes him.

Looking deeper into Rasmus’ 2011 struggles, it seems as though his lack of success was, at least partially, due to some rotten luck. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was .267 for the season, more than 30 points below the putative league average. Upon arriving in Toronto, his BABIP dropped to a microscopic .217, indicating that he was even less fortunate north of the border. Of course, his lofty .354 BABIP from 2010 is likely not a sustainable figure, but it’s reasonable to believe that his true ability lies somewhere in between the two extremes. And while the production left something to be desired in 2011, he did manage to cut his strikeout rate down to 22.1% from 27.7% the year before.

Earlier this offseason, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus polled a group of eight major-league general managers as to whether they’d rather have Rasmus or Cuban-defector-turned-Oakland-Athletic Yoenis Cespedes as their team’s centrefielder. Six of the eight GMs picked Cespedes. Among those who preferred the Cuban, at least two of them cited Rasmus’ character issues in their reasoning.

“I don't like the swing, and there's something about the J.D. Drew way he goes about things," one AL scouting executive said.

“I just don't buy the whole 'Tony La Russa turned this guy into a bad player' thing," said another American league front office member.

While coachability and attitude are certainly relevant attributes, the list of successful, even superstar-caliber athletes whose personalities are little less than abhorrent is an extremely extensive document.

Furthermore, the beautiful thing about computerized projections is that they don’t care about character flaws, perceived or legitimate. They don’t care if you don’t run out ground balls. They don’t care if you’re taciturn with the media. Incidentally, PECOTA predicts that Rasmus will enjoy a modest bounce-back in 2012, with a .252/.321/.442 line, along with 20 homers and 70 RBIs.

And for those insisting that Rasmus’ abysmal numbers this spring in any way portend the inevitability of an equally disappointing regular season, to you I say, it’s Spring Training.

Go look up Gabe Gross.

So for those Snider enthusiasts who are also calling for Rasmus’ conspicuously unkempt head, please note the inherent hypocrisy. You can’t reasonably support one and condemn the other. Otherwise, you’re just as inconsistent as they are.

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