02 March 2018

Colby Rasmus is a Perfectly Average Baseball Player

"Average" gets a bad rap in sports. Saying someone is average seems to imply that, actually, they are not just not good, they are bad. Being average means you don't do anything well, you're not exciting, and a team can, and should, have someone better. Being average, though, is far from being bad. In fact, one of the hallmarks of the Orioles run since 2012 was that the team avoided having bad players. They didn't have a ton of great players, necessarily, but the team was stocked with average to good talent that avoided having several spots on the field manned by below average scrubs.

This changed in 2017, as just six position players put up more than 1 fWAR, matching 2015 as the low mark since 2012. Not only did the Orioles not have a great deal of high end performances last season, they also had more low end performances than we are used to seeing.

Enter Colby Rasmus, left handed hitting outfielder, who signed a minor league deal prior to the start of Spring Training. Rasmus made headlines after walking away from the Tampa Bay Rays (and, at the time, baseball in general) last season, despite posting an outstanding 132 WRC+ in 37 games. Rasmus has had an odd career, going from one of the most highly touted prospects in baseball to being a bust and then becoming a solid regular before growing a crazy beard and quitting the game. The idea of him being a five tool player never quite came to pass, but Rasmus has had a pretty...well, average career.

Generally, 2 WAR is considered average. Rasmus has played nine seasons in the big leagues and has generated 19.7 fWAR. That's an (wait for it) average of 2.2 fWAR per year. WRC+ normalizes production and weights it to 100, with players being sorted based on how much better or worse they are than the average. Rasmus' career WRC+? 103. wOBA, or weighted on base average, is an attempt to measure overall value and the average player will have around a .320 mark. Colby Rasmus has a .324 wOBA in his career. How about defense? I know defensive stats have issues and shouldn't necessarily be relied upon fully, but Rasmus has a 2.9 UZR/150 games played mark in his career. An average player puts up between 0 and 5 UZR.

This is, honestly, kind of remarkable. Since 2009, the only players to have similar offensive stats and basically the same WAR output as Rasmus are Austin Jackson, Russell Martin, Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, Jhonny Peralta, and Yunel Escobar. I don't know about you, but if I was asked to name some average big league baseball players that would be a pretty comprehensive list. None of those players are great, though like Rasmus some have had great seasons, but in general they have been solid, more or less every day players over the past decade.

It's not often you see a player as average as Colby Rasmus. If he's not the Platonic ideal of averageness, he's certainly up there. And this, I think, is where the problem may lie. While being an average player isn't bad, Orioles fans were almost certainly hoping for something more. Not only that, Rasmus hasn't played a full slate of games since 2012 and is an obvious platoon candidate. Given the revolving corner outfield door since Nick Markakis left after the 2014 season, it seems more than a little underwhelming that the starting right fielder on Opening Day could well be Rasmus.

It's far from a lock that Rasmus even makes the team, of course. He's competing against multiple guys with similar skill sets, Austin Hays may force his way onto the roster, and there's every indication that the O's will keep at least two Rule 5 picks counting Anthony Santander. There's also the (lessening by the day) possibility that the team goes out and signs someone like Carlos Gonzalez. If Rasmus does make the team, however, there's a good chance he puts up some pretty average numbers, and that's just fine!


Roger said...

Honestly, I would rather have Rasmus than Gonzalez at their current performance levels. Rasmus is a better fielder and Gonzalez is on a major downslide. I think Corey Dickerson would have been better and with more control. Assuming all of Mancini, Jones, and Rasmus can put up an "average" season (2.0fWAR) that makes the OF a lot better than it was early last year. There's every reason to believe every other field position can be at least average (Davis, Schoop, Machado, Beckham, Joseph). That's a nearly full lineup that can be at least average with any one of them breaking out to have a big season (especially Machado or Schoop or maybe Mancini). I assume Hays will go down until Santander can be optioned, but either is a reserve that could have some upside. Honestly, a Valencia/Alvarez platoon could be a huge boost at DH and would certainly be "average" or better. With Sisco as backup C, that just leaves Trumbo as the odd man out for the last spot on the bench. Everyone among the hitting group have the potential to be average or above and should not sink below average. Accomplishing the same with the pitching is a challenge. If the bullpen can pull in 4.0fWAR, the rotation is the primary concern. The O's could have easily had one of your other "average" players - Carlos Gomez - really cheaply too. If the O's can pick up one of the big 3 remaining FA starters then this team has a chance as it's currently constructed. Wouldn't you characterize, at least, Lynn and Cobb as "average" starters? To be really playoff contenders, the starters will need to pull in at least 12fWAR which is really not very likely without some addition(s).

PTCello said...

Roger, we do not have room on the roster for a platoon DH. I am a big fan of Danny Valencia and have followed him over the last several years. He's actually a pretty good first baseman but his third base defense was literally the worst in all of baseball, and he actually admitted it and said he was working on it. The result is that neither of these guys has any defensive value, and it would be really foolish to devote two roster spots to such limited players, but the elephant in the living room is Trumbo.