Can Colby Rasmus Survive A Visit From The BABIP Regression Monster?

Colby Rasmus had somewhat of a re-breakout in 2013.

Having followed up a tantalizing 2010 sophomore season with a pair of disappointing campaigns, Rasmus produced a nearly-five win season in just 118 games, nearing career highs in home runs (22) and runs batted in (66).

Disabled list stints in August (abdominal strain) and September (ball to the face) kept him from being perhaps a top-30 outfielder. Instead, he ranked 55th and enters 2014 as somewhat of a question mark.

First, let’s take a quick look back at where Rasmus ranked among outfielders in different categories:

HR: T-19th
RBI: T-28th
R: T-58th
AVG: Did not qualify, but ranked 27th among those with 400 PA
HR/PA: 8th

However, it’s also worth looking at his ranks in Redneck Roto:

Drinking that ice cold beer: 1st
Talking bout girls: T-3rd
Talking bout trucks: 1st
Running them red dirt roads out, kicking up dust: T-17th
Running them red dirt roads out, kicking up dust (City-adjusted): 8th
Sending up prayers to the man upstairs: 3rd
Being backwoods legit, taking no s***: 11th
Chew tobacco: 1st
Chew tobacco: 1st
Chew tobacco: 1st
Spit: 4th

In seriousness, Rasmus is a curious case for 2014 for two primary reasons: His BABIP was unreasonably high in 2013, and his strikeout rate spiked.

Those two things together would lead you to predict a major drop in batting average – fewer balls in play, with regression coming to BABIP, could see him fall to his .225 2011-12 levels. Since he also posted a huge BABIP in 2010, perhaps his best seasons have just been fueled by luck?

2010 0.354 19.4 32 48.6 5.2
2011 0.267 16.5 35.8 47.7 15.5
2012 0.259 20.1 37.6 42.2 14.4
2013 0.356 22 33 45 12.6

Well, Rasmus’ 2013 has some better BABIP indicators than his 2010 did. The line drive rate has trended upwards (and is accompanied by elite ball distance) and, following a huge spike, the infield fly ball rate has trended downwards. If these are real trends, and they appear to be, then the BABIP regression we’re waiting for may be towards a .290 mark rather than the .260-mark he had in 2011-12.

The strikeout rate should also come down some, though it certainly seems a high-strikeout approach works well for him. His issue isn’t really discipline – his O-Swing% and Z-Swing% are both below league average – but he has a poor contact rate (73.5% in 2013, 76.2% career) and sees a below average number of pitches in the zone (some of that may have been to toward the back of a Jays lineup that had awful hitters behind him).

Those are traits that can make a ‘wait for your pitch’ approach a little risky, and pitchers seemed to notice – he swung at 136 first pitches, making contact on 44 while taking 179 balls to 143 strikes. Luckily, Rasmus still manages to slug well enough (.406) when falling behind

Perhaps most importantly for his K-rate is that his swinging-strike rate is above average at 11.5% but hardly indicative of one of the league’s biggest whiffers. Nobody in the top-15 in K% (minimum 400 PA) had a lower SwStr% than Rasmus.

All of that is to say, if his strikeout rate comes down a bit, and his BABIP falls closer to league average than bottom of the barrel, his average could hold up around .250 rather than .225.

That’s not insignificant, but look back at his home run ranks in a 118-game season. Power is relatively scarce in the outfield. Rasmus’ power is definitely there, his home park is favorable to his sweet, sweet swing, and any platoon concerns may be overstated (he still had a 92 wRC+ against lefties last year, but his ISO dropped from .250 to .168).

A player with a .250-28-75-80-0 line (roughly Rasmus’ 600-plate appearance averages) would have ranked right around 30th overall. It might be tough to pencil in that kind of playing time, but he’s averaged 533 plate appearances over five seasons and he had just one DL stint on his record before this season.

In short, Rasmus can survive his average sliding backwards due to the power, which along with (please god, hopefully) a better position in the Jays’ lineup, should help keep the RBI production high. (Note: I still can’t figure out why he doesn’t steal.)

Plus, talkin bout trucks.

Blake Murphy is a freelance sportswriter based out of Toronto. Formerly of the Score, he's the managing editor at Raptors Republic and frequently pops up at Sportsnet, Vice, and around here. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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10 years ago

You missed a very important category in Redneck Roto: Eatin’ good ole chili dawgs (His favorite food) – 1st