Colby Rasmus has been terrific so far this season for the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite early criticism that centered mostly around a historically poor strikeout rate, Rasmus has responded admirably and led the Blue Jays in the first half of 2013 with a 3.5 fWAR.
Much of Colby’s fWAR value comes from his defense as he’s put up a spectacular 10.0 UZR in 759.2 innings so far in 2013. He is currently ranked as the fourth best center fielder in MLB based on UZR. He’s robbed at least one home run and has a double-play outfield assist, which help beef up his defensive stats.
It’s not exactly breaking news that Rasmus brings the Jays great defense on a nightly basis. But I wanted to quickly recognize his defensive excellence before moving on since not everyone may realize the value he brings to a team in center field.
For the rest of this post I’m going to focus on Rasmus at the dish. His impressive fWAR isn’t just a by-product of great defense – Colby is also having his best offensive campaign since the notoriously comparable 2010. Fellow Jays Journal staff writer Jay Blue has covered Rasmus‘ relative resurgence on his own blog, as has Nick Ashbourne over at Bluebird Banter, so I wanted to look at Colby’s plate production from a slightly different angle.
In the first half of 2012, which I should note includes any games played before the All-Star break and is not at the actual 81-game mark, Rasmus was third among Blue Jays batters and 8th among qualifying MLB center fielders with a 2.2 fWAR. He carried a .259/.328/.565 triple slash,.349 wOBA and 119 wRC+ into the July 10 All-Star Game. Colby’s strikeout and walk rates left much to be desired at 19.7% and 8.5% respectively but it seemed to be a fair trade-off considering his fearsome wOBA.
However the great start didn’t last as Colby’s production fell off a cliff during the second half of 2012. His triple slash plummeted to .176/.238/.278., matched by an equally unimpressive .230 wOBA and 37 wRC+. The ice-cold finish and generally streaky play didn’t help Rasmus with his contract leverage. He and the Jays avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $4.675 million deal.
One abominable second half probably isn’t enough to suspect similar results from Rasmus again this year. A few lousy months do not make a baseball player. But it’s worth noting that Rasmus did have eerily similar numbers during the second half of 2011 including a .173/.201/.306 triple slash, .225 wOBA and 33 wRC+.
So should we be worried about this trend of second-half incompetence from Colby Rasmus?
One point that was picked up on earlier this year in a post on FanGraphs by Jeff Sullivan is the way the pitchers have changed their approach to facing Rasmus. Being an admitted fastball-hitter, teams started throwing Colby more and more off-speed pitches. Here’s a look at his 2012 first and second half pitch selection splits, also compared to that rate so far this year.
It’s apparent that the trend of Colby seeing less fastballs has held up. Teams have tried to adjust but has Colby been one step ahead? Despite seeing an identical fastball rate this year at 57.6% compared to the second half last year, and well down from the rate he saw the first half of 2012 (62.9%), he’s produced at an even higher level recognized by his .263/.332/.484 triple slash, .354 wOBA and 122 wRC+ in 2013.
So what has led to this transformation? I assumed it must have something to do with Rasmus’ effectiveness against breaking pitches but to be sure I took a quick look at his Pitch Type Linear Weights to see roughly how effective he’s been this year against each pitch.
Rasmus does appear to be hitting the curve better and is certainly mashing on fastballs this year. But what really sticks out to me is the stark contrast between the first and second half pitches values in 2012. He handled almost everything fairly well until July but suddenly lost his offensive swagger. What happened? I think that his plate discipline numbers pretty much tell the story.
So compared to the first half of 2012, during the second half Rasmus was less aggressive inside the zone, made contact less often and chased significantly more often. That doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for success.
But Rasmus appears, at least for now, to have reverted back to his earlier 2012 form. He’s been a slightly more patient hitter overall and it looks to be paying off. Despite a lower contact rate this year compared to the first half of 2012, Rasmus still has better overall numbers, which is very promising for the Blue Jays. He can’t hit anything outside of the zone and still swings and misses far too often but I think we are seeing a relatively sustainable pace by Rasmus this season.
So will Colby Ryan Rasmus fall off the way that he did last year? I would be very surprised to see another second half collapse. If anything, I think that Colby has a chance to be even better in the second half this year than he was in the first. Now if only he could steal a base…
All stats are courtesy of FanGraphs.