Monday, September 17, 2012

What's Wrong With Colby Rasmus?

Remember that final instalment of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy?  Viggo Mortensen and his ambiguous accent triumph over the armies of Mordor and Isengard while Frodo and Sam chuck that infernal ring into the fires of Mount Doom?  

And then the movie carried on for, like, another 35 minutes?

That's pretty much how I feel about the second half of Colby Rasmus's season.  It refuses to die.    

In 53 games since the all-star break, Rasmus has laboured his way to a slash line that would probably reduce Nick Punto to tears, hitting .185/.242/.295, with just five homeruns and nary a stolen base.  This precipitous fall has whittled Rasmus's WAR down to a measly 1.3, good enough for dead last among qualified centre fielders.

When he was acquired last July in a three-way deal with the Cardinals and White Sox, Rasmus quickly drew the ire of Toronto fans after hitting just .173 with three homeruns in his first 35 games as a Blue Jay, albeit while battling a wrist injury.  However, the taciturn Georgia native had effectively silenced all those naysayers with an impressive first half to 2012 in which he hit .259/.328/.494 with 18 homeruns, of which 11 came between June 5 and July 8, when he fashioned an OPS of .977.

But since the midsummer classic, Rasmus has been but a sad, sporadically-cornrowed vestige of his former self.  And in a season that's been derailed (or, more accurately, carpetbombed) by injury, Rasmus appeared to be one of the few bright spots in an increasingly beleaguered lineup.

Yes, he's been victimized by a relatively low BABIP (.266), and his numbers certainly belie the rate at which he makes hard contact -- his 20.1% line drive rate represents the highest mark of his career -- but the drop-off has simply been too great to attribute to rotten luck.

So allow me to proffer a handful of theories as to why Colby has looked suspiciously similar to Brendan Ryan since mid-July.

1. His plate discipline has eroded
Never lauded for his discipline at the plate, Colby's aggressiveness (or rather, recklessness) at the plate has reached unprecedented levels since the all-star break.  During the first half of the season, Rasmus would chase approximately one out of every four pitches (27%) he saw that was out of the strike zone, a marginal improvement over the league average of 30%.  Since the all-star break, though, he's either lost his discipline or his sense of the strike zone, as his chase percentage has jumped to 36.7%.  Consequently, his walk rate has dropped almost three clicks while his strikeout rate has ballooned by almost nine per cent.

I can live with the strikeouts.  Hell, he struck out in more than 27% of his plate appearances back in 2010, when he compiled 4.3 wins above replacement as a member of the Cardinals.  But in order for him to have consistent success, he'll have to improve his on-base abilities, especially considering that he's pretty much ensconced in the No. 2 spot in the lineup for the foreseeable future.  His .295 OBP on the season in frighteningly Lind-ian.

2. He's swinging and missing more 
We all know how partial Rasmus is to offering at the first pitch.  I even blogged about it a couple months ago, back when the sample sizes were far too small to say anything remotely conclusive.  His 34% first-pitch swing rate is eight per cent higher than the MLB average, according to  The problem is, whereas in the first half he could take a vicious hack at 0-0 and still put together a productive at-bat, his bloated whiff rate since the all-star break seems to have thrown a wrench into his approach -- his 30.3% swing-and-miss rate in the second half represents a jump of more than eight per cent since the halcyon days of April-July 8.

Of course, there's a symbiosis between articles 1 and 2.  He's swinging at pitches that aren't necessarily hittable (1), so he's swinging and missing more (2).  And because he remains undeterred in his partiality for offering at the first pitch, he's routinely behind in the count, which makes (1) more likely, and thus (2) inevitable.

3. He's gone from bad to worse against left-handed pitching
I never got to see John Olerud in his prime.  But from what I gather (and my father's testimony goes a long way in this regard), he possessed arguably the sweetest lefty swing in the history of the Blue Jays.  He hit .270 against lefties.

For many a left-handed hitter, southpaw pitching is fodder for nightmares.  Colby Rasmus is no exception.  And while he did enjoy moderate success against lefties in the first half of the year (.235/.327/.388), since the all-star break, he's become, for lack of a better word, anaphylactic.  In 63 plate appearances against southpaw pitching since July 13, Rasmus is hitting a microscopic .119/.175/.186 with no homeruns and just one walk.  He's also struck out in 21 of those 63 plate appearances.


If he didn't play centre field, people would likely be clamouring for a platoon.  While he'll probably never enjoy abundant success against southpaws, I'd be more than content if he could, in 2013, replicate the .715 OPS he posted before the all-star break.

Having said all that, I appreciate that it's tough to play for a team comprised predominantly of AAA-talent that's destined for the golf course come October.  And it's not unreasonable to think Rasmus's performance of late has been hampered by a groin injury that probably could've warranted a trip to the disabled list.  It's also salient to note that since Brett Lawrie's return from a month-long DL stint on September 7, Rasmus has been red-hot, hitting .323 with an OPS of .888.  But nevertheless, Rasmus's second-half decline has definitely raised some eyebrows, and that's coming from a card-carrying Rasmus Rooter.

Still two years away from free agency, Rasmus hasn't yet reached the proverbial crossroads of his career, but given the current state of this franchise, there's no doubt he regarded as a core piece.

Per Richard Griffin's column
“Yes, right now, for sure,” manager John Farrell said, when asked if Rasmus was key to the Jays’ future. “He’s got a chance to be an RBI guy. He’s got a chance to hit the ball out of the ballpark. When you look at his skills and his tools, he’s got as much talent as anybody in this league.

I feel like my feelings towards Rasmus may have come off as ambivalent.  This is my own fault.  I like him.  A lot.  I just need to see more consistency from him in 2013 before anointing him a cornerstore piece.

I can't think of a really clever way to cap this off.  Frankly, I'm still fuming over the fact that the Patriots lost on Sunday, thereby eliminating me from my survivor pool.

Damn Cardinals.