Rays Fill Depth Need With Colby Rasmus Signing
At the start of the day yesterday the Rays really could have used another outfielder that could play center field in a pinch, and perhaps longer, while also being able to get worked in at both of the corner slots. Ideally, that player hits right-handed to form a natural platoon as Saunders just mentioned earlier today. Ideals are rare so the Rays did the next best thing and got a guy that should be a borderline elite defender in either corner, while profiling around average or better up the guts even if he does swing unorthodox.
That man is Colby Rasmus. The lefty slugger is coming off the worst season of his career as a hitter, but still displayed fine defense with the Astros in 2016. Particularly when asked to play in a corner, which is something he really hadn’t done a whole lot of before arriving in Houston. Always a player with pretty large platoon splits, Rasmus might have enough of a glove that the team will be hard-pressed to take him off the field even when faced with the disadvantage. Part of that is necessity as Steven Souza Jr. is the only right-handed hitting outfielder on the roster. I would just be regurgitating a better piece to talk more on the defense. Instead you should check this out for more information.
Speaking of Souza, he is probably the guy that stands to lose the most here. Yesterday morning he was your everyday right-fielder, starting pitcher be damned. Now, with the ability to roll out an outfield of Corey Dickerson/Kevin Kiermaier/Rasmus from left to right means that Souza might lose some, or a lot, of playing time in the 70% of games when a righty starts. Rasmus certainly has the arm for RF, and his defense in left-field might make it imperative to eat the negative bat against lefties to keep the defense at an extremely high level. That’s right, the Rays might have found an everyday player and it only cost them $5-7M for the upcoming year. Afterall, someone out of Dickerson, Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and now Rasmus will have to forego the luxury of the platoon caddie.
So about that bat. Here is how his career ranks amongst the 551 guys that have gotten at least 800 PA since he broke into the league:
Starting on the left and working down you get the sense that he’s a lot like the recently profiled 2016 version of Corey Dickerson. You’re looking at oodles of power in the form of extra base hits with scoring high on all three types. He also brings an above average walk rate, but the strikeout rate approaches league worst. As such, his batting average and on-base percentage end up suppressed, but the slugging percentage and ISO play way up. Part of the reason for the below average BABIP becomes clear when you see the near-bottom groundball rate, but the tradeoff comes with a league average line drive rate and an elite rate for flyballs to the outfield.
Moving to the right-hand side you can see that he has supported above average wOBA and wRC+ figures, but they’re closer to average than what you would call good. Good Approach, Good Result, or GAGR, is my own concoction that seeks to reward guys that lay off balls and put strikes in play. He rates pretty well there, though you can see that it has little to do with his poor contact ability, and more to do with his high zone swing rate. While he won’t help a whole lot stealing bags (wSB), he is an elite runner once on the bases and his extremely low GB% means that he is one of the best at avoiding the double play. His incredibly high hard hit percentage shows itself as a product of his extreme pull rate, though for all the pulled balls he’ll still go oppo from time to time.
These percentiles should give you a great feel for his strengths and weaknesses. It is a rather polarizing skillset as most of these metrics see him more in the extremes than the middle. Moving from an outline of what he can do let’s move into some heatmaps to see where he controls the zone:
Rasmus does struggle pretty mightily with lefties as evidenced by his career 81 wRC+ versus 109 against righties. He’s almost all pull for his base hits, but he does show some ability when southpaws try to get in his kitchen. When facing righties you get a better sense of his strengths:
You can see a little more oppo pop with all those doubles to the left side, but he’s still yoking the hell out of the ball for the majority of his production including nearly all of his homers. The thing that stands out to me is how he scorches everything down, which brings me to a hypothesis. With the league’s stated goal of not killing batters with so many strikes below the zone it stands to reason that the pitchers benefiting from that will have to come up just a bit more. That means good lowball hitters like Rasmus should be able to feast without having so much frustration after having wrongly called balls go against them. We can see that better upon looking at his Strikes Looking Above Average (SLAA):
Here is a guy that has been eaten alive by would-be balls called strikes at the bottom of the zone. If this hypothesis proves correct you could be looking at guy that could benefit more than most from a raised strike zone. With so many plate appearances under his belt opposition pitchers know his great strengths and it shows up in how they pitch to him:
From left to right we have how righties pitch using the breaking ball, change up, and fastball. He’ll almost never get a heater where he does his most damage, and the change is similarly well located. The breaking ball will creep over the middle pretty often, but it’s a pitch he doesn’t do a ton with. Switching to lefties:
Here we find lefty heaters and breakers from left to right. Lefties have to leave the fastball over the middle a bit more, if only to act as bait for when they take him out of the zone on the next offering. I wouldn’t expect him to be able to do much with them, but it’s a nice profile against righties if he can get them to come into his nitro zone at all. Along those lines I have looked at how he has been platooned in his career with associated results:
The black line shows his platoon percentage corresponding with the left-hand axis. higher means more righties, and you can see only very early in his career was he platooned very heavily. After that there have been stretches, and a good bit of creep over the recent term. It also seems that as he has performed better he has been given more leash, but once the results dry up his manager is fairly quick to pull the chain. What you’ll also notice is that he has been an above average hitter of late with some fairly high peaks.
There is a lot to dislike here, but then if there weren’t any warts he wouldn’t be signing with the Rays on a $5-7M deal depending on which incentives he is able to meet. I know folks don’t like to see another low OBP masher brought into a group that is littered with that profile, but studies have shown that once you set on down this road you’re better off adding more guys of this skillset. During the times when everyone was healthy last year the team leaned on the homer as hard as anyone, and they hit a lot of them:
Adding another guy that can help keep the homer per game rate around 1.5, and avoiding the lull that looks to correspond with the 3-24 stretch last year is a good thing. The fact that he is an elite defender in either corner that plays around average in centerfield is a tremendous boon for this team that is starting to have more good players than positions. With the new, shorter 10-day disabled list I don’t think it will be much of an issue finding everyone time, though I think Souza stands to be the biggest loser here unless he comes out like a house on fire. This was a good signing, and hopefully one that can position the team to well to win some games.
While he does little to add another righty bat to the team there is a bevy of options in free agency. So many that they should be able to find a guy that continues this trend of obscene power even if it brings a (well) below average hit rate in tow. Here’s a look at the primary names of interest and their lines over the last two years:
These four guys will get increasingly expensive from bottom to top, but Chris Carter seems like a perfect fit for this team that could end up seeing the short end of the stick in free agency. Alternatively, as I recently speculated, Mark Trumbo’s barren market and attached draft pick is brutalizing his chances of signing for big money. While losing the pick would sting, the team is well positioned thanks to their lottery pick to give up a little future maybe for some right now production. I’d try to get Trumbo to a two-year, $25M contract to help offset some of that loss, but failing that I think Carter can be had for around $5-6M. Trumbo profiles as a very good defender at firstbase where he could platoon with Brad Miller who might also see some time at secondbase, but could also stand out in leftfield from time to time without hurting the team too much. Carter does not bring that aspect, but that is baked into the cost.