Rasmus The Blue Jay

Earlier today, Colby Rasmus was acquired by the Blue Jays in yet another shrewd “if you don’t like ‘em, we’ll take ‘em” move by the unabashedly aggressive Toronto General Manager Alex Anthopoulos.

Formally an eight-player deal between the Blue Jays and the Cardinals, the deal is practically a three-team triangle trade involving 11 players and the White Sox, who managed get rid of Mark Teahen, save $9 million and net No. 2 starter-type pitching prospect Zack Stewart. Similar in form to last year’s deal between the Blue Jays and Braves for Yunel Escobar, this move has the potential to be a major win for the Blue Jays if Rasmus pans out. But will he develop as anything more than just a clubhouse headache for Tony LaRussa?

Only just about to turn 25, there is plenty of upside for Rasmus, but his ceiling and “projectable” room to grow shrinks more and more with each passing year and every major league at-bat that pins down his true talent level. Hitters tend to peak around age 25 and 26, while fielders tend to peak a couple of years earlier. Rasmus is right in that “sweet spot” between 24 and 26 where hitters tend to make their biggest leaps forward offensively and retain most of their fielding value.

I am neither a scout nor a forecaster. That “magic leap” forward is not an easy thing to predict, and it is certainly not something I will pretend to know how to do. All that my expertise can tell you is that as a player gets older, his peak potential attenuates into plateau probability. Our own Brian Cartwright and his Oliver Forecasting engine (half-season subscriptions are now available for only $7.50) does a fantastic job at forecasting younger players. Here is what Oliver forecasted for Rasmus, per 600 plate appearances, through age 30:

Year Org Lg Age PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS K BB HBP GDP AVG OBP SLG OPS wOBA
2011 STL NL 24 600 529 77 141 28 5 23 81 10 4 124 59 1 8 0.268 0.337 0.469 0.806 0.346
2012 STL NL 25 600 530 78 142 27 4 23 81 10 4 122 59 1 9 0.267 0.337 0.468 0.805 0.346
2013 STL NL 26 600 532 78 142 28 4 23 81 10 4 121 59 1 9 0.266 0.337 0.465 0.802 0.346
2014 STL NL 27 600 531 77 140 28 4 23 79 10 4 120 59 1 9 0.265 0.335 0.460 0.795 0.343
2015 STL NL 28 600 532 76 140 27 4 22 78 10 4 120 58 1 9 0.261 0.331 0.451 0.782 0.339
2016 STL NL 29 600 533 75 138 28 3 21 76 11 6 120 57 1 9 0.258 0.328 0.440 0.768 0.333
2017 STL NL 30 600 533 73 136 28 3 20 73 11 6 121 57 1 9 0.254 0.324 0.428 0.752 0.327

Those are pretty good numbers, let alone for a center fielder. In our brave new world of the pitcher, where the league-average OPS and wOBA are .711 and .315, respectively, those numbers look even better. Still, an .800 OPS, 20-ish home run hitter* is probably on the low-end of the type hitter Cardinals’ fans expected their former first-round pick to develop into just a few short years ago.

*In the preseason, I boldly predicted Rasmus would not reach 25 home runs this year and was skeptical of him eclipsing 20. Some, mostly Cardinals fans, called me crazy, but with only 11 on the season and fewer than 60 games remaining in the Cardinals schedule, I seem destined to win this wager.

The Rogers Center is much different from Busch Stadium. For example, whereas Busch has depressed lefty home runs by about nine percent over the past three years according to the 2011 Bill James Handbook, the Rogers Center is a dead-neutral park, with a lefty batter home run park index of 100 on the dot. The differences is the parks can be observed, courtesy of Katron.org, by mapping out Rasmus’ batted ball data at Busch Stadium over the Rogers Center:

image

Last year’s map of data, when Rasmus was hitting for better power, looks much better:

image

Had Rasmus been a righty, rather than a lefty, the change in setting for Rasmus would likely have a more substantial impact than it will. Being a lefty, however, Rasmus’ move north is postured to give him a small boost in power with some offset in walks. If we boldly and fallaciously assume James’ park factors from 2008-2010 will remain constant for the next six years, here is how Rasmus’ age 2012-2017 seasons might look:

Year Org Lg Age PA AB H 2B 3B HR K BB AVG OBP SLG OPS
2012 STL NL 25 600 528 142 28 5 24 121 58 0.268 0.333 0.480 0.813
2013 STL NL 26 600 531 142 29 5 24 121 58 0.268 0.333 0.479 0.812
2014 STL NL 27 600 530 140 29 5 24 119 57 0.265 0.330 0.476 0.806
2015 STL NL 28 600 530 140 28 5 23 119 57 0.263 0.327 0.467 0.795
2016 STL NL 29 600 531 138 29 4 22 119 56 0.259 0.322 0.452 0.774
2017 STL NL 30 600 531 136 29 4 21 121 56 0.255 0.319 0.442 0.761

Comparing the two charts, you might notice a roughly +.010 point, or 1.25 percent, change in Rasmus’ expected OPS. That is improved raw production overall, but nothing substantial. On-base is more valuable than slugging, so the change in wOBA caused by the change in parks is likely to be nil. Thus, if we look at what to expect, Rasmus will probably be the same low-.800 OPS player for Toronto he was in St. Louis unless he takes that “magic leap” forward.

This is not to be overly critical, however, because .800-OPS types have been getting scarcer and scarcer over the past two seasons. Rasmus is capable of playing a good-enough, though not elite, center field to stick and provide plenty of positional value, as well. Despite a relatively high strikeout rate that offsets a good walk rate, Rasmus should be capable of producing a combined +10-15 WAR over the next three seasons for the Jays before hitting the free agency market.

That is a lot of potential value, and all it really cost the Jays was pitching prospect Zach Stewart, who could be pretty good, but is still just a prospect, and prospects are always fickle. I will also always take three-plus years of team control for a young .800 OPS hitter, let alone center fielder, over six years of a pitching prospect.

All in all, this was a good move for Alex A., and if the Jays are able to lock Rasmus up for the next six years (through age 30) at, say, $35 million, it could be a steal for the Jays, who have become a very strong up the middle team over the past 12 months. But what does it mean for fantasy owners?

As a fantasy hitter, Ramus is still overrated, particularly in 5×5 standard leagues. Rasmus is more likely to remain a 20-25 home run hitter going forward, but he is still only a .260/23 HR/11 SB type batter. That kind of production is valuable, but probably not top-36 (OF3) material. Rasmus is a brand-name player who was drafted as a top-25 outfielder and top-100 overall player this year, and given that kind of love, he is unlikely to be someone to turn a profit and is probably capable of returning a loss.

Ramus takes a good number of walks (11.7 percent BB rate over the past two seasons), but strikes out too much (20 percent of the time this year, 22 percent career) given his power output (.185 career ISO), and that will keep his potential batting average—and in turn on-base percentage—lower than what it could be.

Rasmus has good instincts on the basepaths (+13.9 UBR over his 385-game career), but just average-ish speed (career +5.3 speed score) that, paired with a good-but-not-great on-base rate, will not lead to much more than ten stolen bases a year.

If another owner is your league is excited about Rasmus and willing to pay for him at preseason rates, I would recommend exploiting the opportunity. Rasmus does not particularly overwhelm as a keeper, particularly at his probable preseason price. Good, reasonably attainable outfielder trade targets for Rasmus include B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward, and Michael Morse. If post-trade Rasmus does not meet up to the hype surrounding his name at the trade deadline, do not be surprised.

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Comments

  1. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Well,

    The Jays also gave up on the Repo Man, who I still like, but its clear the org. had no intention on trying to return to his former glory in the starting rotation

  2. Jonny German said...

    Rasmus had an 859 OPS last year. How does it follow that he needs a magic leap forward to be more than a low-800 OPS player? I seem him as a guy having a down year who simply needs to regain his form of a year ago.

  3. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Jonny,

    Last year was some over performance on his part. .354 BABIP about 20-30 points above his expected BABIP, his OPS should have been lower. Especially when striking out over 1/4th of the time

  4. sloww2go said...

    I just flipped Rasmus to a die hard Blue Jay Fan along with Ubaldo Jimenez and Raefal Furcal. In return I receiver Jimmy Rollins, Matt Cain and Aaron Crow. Its a dynasty league and Rasmus had been demoted to my AAA squad for most of the year anyways.

  5. jeffrey gross said...

    @sloww2go,

    Eh, its an OK trade, but nothing blockbuster. Unless your SS was Mike Aviles and you never replaced him…

  6. sloww2go said...

    based on team need it was a blockbuster. The last thing I need is Jimenez screwing up my ERA and WHIP in the fantasy playoffs. Now I have a more consistent pitcher in Cain. I have a power option at SS and Aaron Crow is a quality setup man. I really don’t like Rasmus at all after watching him this season. His batting stance is terrible and he is even worse vs. lefties. For a guy that wasn’t contributing at all to my championship run I think I made out just fine.

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